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Fires destroy homes and injure firefighters -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The fires that had earlier raged across western Sydney and the Blue Mountains have eased, with authorities tonight downgrading the threat level. At the height of the emergency, two homes were destroyed and seven fire fighters taken to hospital. The early start to the bushfire season comes after one of the warmest winters on record. John Stewart reports.

JOHN STEWART, REPORTER: Late this morning four major fires broke out west of Sydney fanned by 70km per hour winds. The early start to the bushfire season caught many by surprise with some of the hottest spring weather on record.

RESIDENT: Came through really, really quick. It was one minute it was green and the next minute it was all gone.

JOHN STEWART: As temperatures reached 31 degrees, water bombing helicopters were called in to help keep the fires away from properties.

EMERGENCY SERVICES: I pulled up and this poor bloke's trying to keep his house on his own and about 20,000 people drove straight past him. Poor bugger.

JOHN STEWART: Two homes were destroyed at Winmalee and Marsden Park. And seven fire fighters taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation and minor injuries.

FIRE FIGHTER: We have seen temperatures today in the early 30s but it's this strong wind that's causing fire fighters some issues as it pushes this fire towards homes in that road.

JOHN STEWART: In Penrith, university staff and schoolchildren were evacuated. Hundreds of residents were told to leave their homes. Some couldn't return.

RESIDENT: Just frustrated we can't get in there. Not a lot of point. All you can do is make sure your house insurance is paid.

RESIDENT: Can't get back home. We're parked on the main road. We can't get in. I've got animals at home and we can't get in to get the animals and we don't know how long we're going to be here for. All the roads around here are blocked.

JOHN STEWART: 40 fires are still burning across NSW but most of the flare ups near Sydney have eased. Authorities say it could be several days before they're fully under control.