“For those people in and around existing fires, if they chose to leave, leave early.”
“If you chose to stay and defend, only do so if you and your property are appropriately prepared and you have the resources, and physical and mental capacity to deal with the impact of the fire. That’s been our clear message from the start.”
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Jonathan How said Friday will be the next “peak day” with high temperatures, strong winds and elevated fire danger across most of the state, particularly along the ranges and western slopes.
“The fire is not looking as bad as it was last Saturday, but it could still be quite windy,” he said. “Temperatures are getting into the high 30s and low 40s across NSW.
“It’s shaping up to be a potentially dangerous fire day with elevated fire danger.”
The death toll for NSW is now at 20 people, eight of whom have died along the South Coast since December 30.
Police said on Tuesday they are searching for the two men, who are from Kiah and Lower Towamba in the Bega Valley.
NSW Police Minister David Elliott and Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys addressed reports of looting across fire grounds, saying those who are caught “should expect the full force of the law.”
Mr Elliott said RFS personnel were using the brief reprieve in weather conditions to “good effect”.
“We hope to see on the board a reduction in the number of fires,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods yet. Friday will again be another dangerous day, because of the heat, but after a couple of days of moist and mild weather, hopefully the fire grounds will be a little easier to manage.”
Mr Elliott said it is likely the Gospers Mountain fire, which has been burning since October, will be contained on Wednesday.
“I think we’ve reached the peak,” he said. “But we’re not out of the woods and there’s a lot of work to go.”
On Monday, residents from Eden to Batemans Bay were allowed to return home after being evacuated on January 2, when conditions deteriorated.
For many residents, it’s the first time they’ve been able to see the devastation left behind.
Eden resident Jack Dickenson said while the main part of the town escaped the fire, surrounding villages have not been so lucky.
He said the Woodchip Mill, which employs between 200 to 300 people, had suffered “pretty considerable” damage and “looks like a smoking volcano.”
Eden Community Access Centre manager Carina Severs said they had been helping direct people to relevant support services.
“People are just wanting to have a chat and a bit of a debrief about what the next step is going to be,” she said.
NSW Rural Fire Service community safety officer Marty Webster said the rain that has fallen across the South Coast is “buying us a bit of time, but it’s not putting fires out”.
He said while the wet weather was welcome, it had complicated backburn and mapping operations.
The calmer weather will also allow local services, including land and water teams to assess the damage from Saturday’s blazes.
“No one is under the illusion that this game is over, there is still a lot of work to do and ongoing risk,” Mr Webster said.
The Defence Force remains on standby to assist towns along the South Coast, particularly Eden, but will need to wait until preliminary assessments are made before they can be deployed.
On Tuesday morning, there were 130 fires burning around the state, which all remain at “advice” level. There are 2000 firefighters on the ground, many of whom are working to strengthen containment lines.
About 1588 homes have been destroyed this fire season, with more than 670 of those homes have been confirmed lost since January 1, the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a tweet.
Laura is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Catriona Stirrat is an intern journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.