Catastrophic fire danger hits the Hunter

READY: The NSW Rural Fire Service deployed crews, strike teams, trucks and aircraft to the Hunter on Sunday in preparation for "catastrophic" and unprecedented fire conditions. Picture: Perry Duffin
READY: The NSW Rural Fire Service deployed crews, strike teams, trucks and aircraft to the Hunter on Sunday in preparation for "catastrophic" and unprecedented fire conditions. Picture: Perry Duffin

Weather watchers tipped it to be “Hell on Earth”, scorching hot and blowing a gale – and they were right.

NSW Rural Fire Service took no chances as catastrophic fire conditions gripped the Hunter over the weekend, prompting the deployment of strike teams, aircraft and hundreds of fire fighters to support the region’s brigades.

The unprecedented move came after Maitland’s hottest day in almost half a century.

According to Weatherzone, Maitland reached 45.6 degrees on Saturday, the hottest day in 49 years. 

In Cessnock the temperature reached 46.8 degrees, the hottest day since records began. 

The RFS announced Sunday would bring “catastrophic” fire danger conditions and people were told to get away from bushland early in the morning, or brace for the worst. 

ON ALERT: NSW Rural Fire Service commanders monitor potential bushfires at the East Maitland Centre on Sunday. Picture: Perry Duffin

ON ALERT: NSW Rural Fire Service commanders monitor potential bushfires at the East Maitland Centre on Sunday. Picture: Perry Duffin

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said catastrophic fire ratings had been issued only once before in NSW - in 2013 - since national standardised ratings were introduced in 2009.

"To put it simply [the conditions] are off the old scale," he said. "It is without precedent in NSW.” 

On Sunday, the Bureau of Meterology recorded 45 degrees in Maitland at 1.51pm as well as 30km/hr Westerly winds and gusts above 50km/hr.

Meanwhile, out of control bushfires razed thousands of hectares near Buladelah, Port Macquarie and Kempsey. 

Out West, near Dunedoo, a massive fire broke containment lines and raged toward homes. Emergency warnings were issued and residents were told to evacuate or seek shelter.

Fires burning across NSW as of 5pm on Sunday. Picture: RFS NSW

Fires burning across NSW as of 5pm on Sunday. Picture: RFS NSW

By mid-afternoon Maitland was blanketed in thick smoke from mid-afternoon on Sunday as strong winds and a cool change from the South swept smoke over the valley.

Crews patrolled the region and firefighting helicopters, including “Malcolm” the water crane, were stationed at East Maitland ready to respond in seconds.

But, at the time the Mercury went to press, it looked as though the Hunter had dodged the danger and no major fires had broken out.