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NSW faces fire threat -

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SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Our coverage today begins in New South Wales, where the fight to protect lives and livelihoods has begun.

The state is in the grip of a heatwave and the predictions of extreme temperatures are being realised.

In many areas the mercury was well into the 30s earlier this morning and it's expected to reach the low 40s later today.

Ninety per cent of the state has been declared a severe or high fire risk.

For the latest, I'm joined now by deputy commissioner Rob Rogers at the Rural Fire Service headquarters.

Deputy commissioner, what's your biggest concern at the moment?

ROB ROGERS: There's several fires in the south of the state that are causing us some concerns. In the Bega area, there's fires burning there, the Monaro area, but basically obviously as the areas are warming up around the state, we're going to see a continuing increase in fire risk and we're just basically just going to have to try and just do our best to get through the day.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: How are the winds looking down in that southern part of the state?

ROB ROGERS: The winds are picking up very strong, we're getting 60 to 70 kilometre an hour gusts. That's also on the border with Victoria and the Riverina area, those winds picking up very, very strongly.

So we've got emergency warnings in place for the Cooma-Monaro area, there's a Yarrabin fire, and the Bega Valley area, there's emergency warnings in place there but there's fires in Wagga, basically all over the southern part of the state.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Whereabouts in those areas is it too late now for people to leave?

ROB ROGERS: Well I guess the most critical areas are these areas of Cooma, the Yarrabin fire and that Warrigal Range area. Those we're exercising - people are exercising caution with leaving. I mean if people can see the road is clear then they still could leave but we're expressing extreme concern for people about being caught on roads.

So if they have any doubt the best thing they can do is shelter in place.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: After that Cooma area then, where's the next biggest concern in New South Wales?

ROB ROGERS: Really the - I guess it just depends on how quickly some of these other fires run around the Wagga area. Certainly in the southern part of the state seems to be the area under most pressure and we've literally got 100 fires burning and 20 of them are not contained at all.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: How many firefighters are at work around the state?

ROB ROGERS: There's around 1,000 fire-fighters currently at work but many other on stand-by. We've got strike teams, aircraft, everybody on stand-by because obviously even around the Sydney area and the west, the fire risk is still elevated, so we just can't send everything down south.

We need to balance that and make sure that we're about to cope with new fires, because I mean we're not even in the warmest part of the day yet. We've still got hours and hours of this to go so we're certainly nowhere near out of the woods yet.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: It's a very hot day too in northern Victoria and I understand Victoria's Country Fire Authority is sending a lot of firefighters up north near the border, so you're liaising with them I imagine?

ROB ROGERS: Absolutely. We've had a lot of discussions with our Victorian counterparts and basically they're in a position where, subject to their own activity, that if we need to move units basically further north, they would assist us in units coming across into New South Wales to help fill that void.

So we've got very good cooperative arrangements with Victoria and now I hope some liaison officers in Sydney this afternoon and they've got people also talking to our local incident management team, so very much communication across the border is going very well.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Victoria had Black Saturday of course nearly four years ago but it's been a while since New South Wales has had such an alert on such a wide scale. Are you concerned that people may not be adequately prepared?

ROB ROGERS: Well I'm really concerned about the whole day. I think that the fact - I do think people have taken this seriously but there will always be those people that think they know better and I guess the message to those people is if you've ignored advice of fire authorities over the years, this is the one day to actually listen to it and take advice and actually follow the advice of fire authorities.

If you ignore it, then it could be at your peril.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: That's the deputy commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, Rob Rogers, speaking to me a short time ago.