THOUSANDS of families trapped in the path of ferocious bushfires have been warned it is too late to flee.
Australian fire crews are mounting a massive water bombing effort to try and contain a huge blaze burning in western Sydney.
The fire tearing through the 264,000-hectare Green Wattle Creek on Sydney’s southwestern outskirts has increased and it is now too late for people in the area to leave, fire chiefs warned.
As the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS): “It is too late to leave. Seek shelter as the fire approaches.
“The safest option is to plan how you will safely take shelter indoors as conditions worsen. Leaving now would be deadly.”
It comes after tens of thousands of people were ordered to leave the danger zones – as the death toll rose to 18.
The premier of New South Wales has declared a state of emergency after the devastation of more than 200 fires this week.
And experts warned it could get worse as a heatwave hits on Saturday, when the suburbs of Sydney could be threatened by the inferno.
Huge areas between Bateman’s Bridge and the border with Victoria state have been ruled “unsafe”, sparking monster traffic jams as thousands flee for their lives through choking smoke.
Transport minister Andrew Constance described the situation as the “largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we’ve ever seen”.
Earlier in the day NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the fire was a priority as temperatures soared across much of the state and winds picked up.
The suburb of Penrith in Sydney’s outer west smashed heat records, with the mercury climbing to 48.9C this afternoon.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the temperature would continue to climb.
Mr Fitzsimmons said: “There is potential for the fire to break out, cross the (Warragamba) dam and move into the western suburbs of Sydney.
“It has the potential to come out into more populated areas this afternoon.”
If the fire broke containment lines, suburbs at risk could include The Oaks, Mowbray Park, Picton and surrounds.
NSW Rural Fire Service assistant fire behaviour analyst Andrew Nicholls said: “Fire conditions are going to ramp up really quickly.
“The difference between 9am and 11am will be huge.”