Three people have died and at least 150 homes have been destroyed as bushfires rage across northern NSW, authorities said on Saturday.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) said early on Saturday that firefighters had discovered the remains of a person in a vehicle and up to seven other people remained unaccounted for.
NSW Police Force confirmed the third death on Saturday a body was found in a burnt-out building north of Taree.
“The body was found after fires swept through the township of Johns River, 40km north, earlier this afternoon,” Police said in a statement.
NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the ABC that more dangerous fire conditions could be expected on Saturday.
“I’m expecting to see those alert levels change throughout the day, probably worsen, more likely than not, as the afternoon winds pick up and the fire behaviour spreads a little more,” Fitzsimmons said.
This is one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons, with parts of the country facing the worst droughts in living memory.
On Friday, NSW fire authorities issued a record number of emergency warnings, with 17 fires declared to be at an emergency level as high winds and dry-conditions saw fires spread rapidly.
Mid north council, David West told ABC radio “the numbers are horrendous.”
“We’ve got over 580 people registered at Club Taree [evacuation centre], 170 at the Tuncurry bowling club, and at Old Bar 80 people are registered.”
“I’ve never seen fires like this in my life,” he said. “When I look at the fire website, and the Hillville fire, progressing to the coast and Old Bar and Diamond Beach, these are heavily populated areas, heavily timbered areas.
“This state is burning.”
On Saturday morning, there were six emergency-level fires burning in NSW, with more than 70 fires across the state in total.
Further north in Queensland, thousands of residents from the Sunshine Coast region spent the night in evacuation centres, after fire authorities told them to leave. There are 36 fires burning across QLD.
The Queensland Fire & Emergency Services declared one fire to be at an emergency level on Saturday morning.
This story has been updated throughout.
Will Ziebell contributed to this report.