Thousands of people will evacuate the South Coast today with conditions on Saturday expected to be as catastrophic, if not worse, than the New Year's Eve blazes which claimed the lives of six people and has destroyed more than 380 homes.
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the latest figure on the number of homes lost on the South Coast was 382. This was up from the 186 confirmed on Wednesday.
The NSW RFS has issued a tourist leave zone spanning more than 180 kilometres from Batemans Bay down to Wonboyn near the Victorian border.
This includes the popular tourist towns of Merimbula, Narooma, Tathra, Bermagui and Moruya.
But the RFS has warned there would be significant delays.
"There are still a number of traffic diversions in place, but there are many ways out of these areas, it may just be that you have travel out a different way to make your way home," deputy commissioner Gary Worboys said.
"We are anticipating heavy traffic out of these areas, so I want to remind all road users to expect delays - but be patient, remain calm, and drive to the conditions - we want everyone to make it out safely."
NSW Police and the NSW RFS were conducting an escort out of Bendalong and Sussex Inlet villages from 9:30am. Escorts will be available for Lake Conjola as well but this has been delayed.
The escorts will be assist those leaving as they head towards the exits of the town and it will be conducted in blocks of 20 to 50 vehicles.
"This egress is a staged operation with all agencies and traffic lights have been reconfigured to facilitate the most efficient traffic flow on the Princes Highway," local emergency operations controller Ray Stynes said.
"Road conditions may change and motorists are encouraged to follow the directions of emergency services on site."
Generators have been brought into the villages to petrol stations.
Tourist Leave Zone – South Coast Bush Fires— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 1, 2020
Dangerous conditions for holiday makers on the South Coast of NSW this weekend
With the widespread power and communications outages across the South Coast please share this information to as many affected people as possible. #nswrfspic.twitter.com/JvbwrpC1fe
Highways are choked with people escaping the coast, on Thursday and it was bumper to bumper at many areas across the South Coast.
The Eurobodalla Council said the following routes were open for people to leave:
- Route south: From Tomakin, travel south via George Bass Drive to Moruya. From Moruya, the Princes Highway is open to Bermagui. Take Bermagui turn off and travel via coast road to Tathra and on to Bega. These detours are signposted. Work continues to open the Princes Highway between Bermagui turn-off and Bega. The Snowy Mountains Highway, Brown Mountain, is open for travel to Canberra and west.
- Route north: From Batemans Bay, the Princes Highway is open through to Sydney. From Moruya, the Princes Highway remains closed between Moruya and Batemans Bay. George Bass Drive - the coast road between Moruya and Batemans Bay - is closed between Rosedale and Malua Bay due to fire damage. All efforts are being made to have George Bass Drive fully open by 10am.
Further south, the Snowy Mountains Highway is open between Bega and Adaminaby so anyone on the Far South Coast is also able to travel to Canberra or Sydney via the Snowy Mountains Highway to Cooma, the Monaro Highway to Canberra and the Hume Highway.
Road closures as of 2:30pm Thursday:
The Princes Highway remains closed in the following locations:
- Between Batemans Bay and Moruya
- Between Narrabarba and Cann River (Victoria)
- From Narrabarba, you can travel west on Imlay Road to the Monaro Highway to head north.
South of Nowra:
- Jerrawangala to Tomerong - Turpentine Road is closed
- Wandandian - Wandean Road is closed between the Princes Highway and Bollerang Road
- .Nowra Hill to Charleyong - Braidwood Road/Nerriga Road is closed
- Braidwood to Nelligen - the Kings Highway is closed
- Braidwood to Moruya - Araluen Road is closed
- Braidwood to Cooma - Cooma Road is closed
A number of smaller local roads are also closed in the South Coast and Snowy Mountains areas, and many roads crossing the New South Wales-Victorian border are also closed, including the Monaro Highway between Rockton and Cann River (Victoria).
Mr Fitzsimmons said: "Our message is as soon as the roads are able to be traversed, we are encouraging, particularly holidaymakers and visitors to the south east of the state to make their way out of the south east of the state to safer places like Sydney and further afield."
"We are getting indications with the forecast for Saturday that is going to present a broader geographic area worse than what we saw yesterday when it comes to fire danger."
Crews have worked to restore power and roads as thousands were left without telecommunications on Tuesday and Wednesday.
There is a shortage of food and water with long queues for supplies at shops across the South Coast.
The devastation from Tuesday's fires has started to be realised.
At least six people have died so far from the South Coast fires.
NSW Police said the body of a man was found in a burnt-out car on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah about 7:30am on Wednesday. In the same area a 70-year-old man was found dead outside a home in Yatte Yattah, about 6 kilometres west of Lake Conjola.
The body of man was found in a vehicle on Wandra Road, Sussex Inlet.
Further south, a body was found outside a home at Coolagolite, about 10 kilometres east of Cobargo.
On Tuesday in Wandella, about 10 kilometres west of Cobargo the bodies of father and son Robert, 63, and Patrick Salway, 29, were found.
Businesses in the main streets of Cobargo and Mogo have been razed. There has been significant damage to the Batemans Bay industrial area.
Dozens of properties have been lost in Malua Bay, Lake Conjola, Mogo and Batemans Bay.