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Emergency powers extended to authorities deal -

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TONY EASTLEY: Already 200 families have lost their homes in the bushfires west of Sydney and the danger is not over yet.

With that in mind, the state Premier Barry O'Farrell has declared a state of emergency, giving emergency services the power to force people from their homes.

Mike Gallacher is known as the straight talking New South Wales Minister for Emergency Services. He's certainly not prone to exaggeration.

Yet he's worried that come Wednesday of this week, when the winds and temperatures pick up, a mega fire may emerge on Sydney's western outskirts.

Minister, how would you describe the fire situation in New South Wales this morning?

MIKE GALLACHER: Well there's no doubt, you know, you only have to look at the faces of the senior personnel of our rural fire service and the Fire and Rescue Service New South Wales to realise how grave the situation really is, particularly in the Blue Mountains.

TONY EASTLEY: Are they worried that the fires are going to join up?

MIKE GALLACHER: Yeah, look they are. They're very close to one another. You've got one fire there that's got a perimeter of - this is an active fire perimeter of over 300 kilometres. Two others probably around the 50 to 60 kilometres in perimeter each. They're very close to one another, and with the north-westerly winds blowing as they start today they'll push toward - the large one - towards the other two.

TONY EASTLEY: So it would move. The fear is, isn't it, that it would move down into more populated areas of Western Sydney?

MIKE GALLACHER: Yes, that's what we're calling the worst case scenario. And that's looking at Wednesday. The reason being, winds are expected to get up to about 50 kilometres an hour, but that's on average. The gusts could be anywhere up to 90 kilometres an hour. Conditions not greatly dissimilar to what we had last Thursday.

TONY EASTLEY: Is this the sort of situation where you will use your emergency powers?

MIKE GALLACHER: With the state of emergency we've given the police and the authorities, all of the authorities in that area, the ability to make decisions in relation to how to deal with the public and how to deal with the threat.

TONY EASTLEY: Now, these powers do what?

MIKE GALLACHER: Give police the power or the authorities and…

TONY EASTLEY: These are RFS volunteers as well, is it?

MIKE GALLACHER: It will primarily be done by obviously police doing the forced evacuations if we need to go down that path. But also working with the paid professionals in terms of making decisions within dealing with the fire threat.

For example, if it's apparent that they need to cut off electricity or cut off gas utilities to an area, they've got the power to do that. They've got the power to pull down buildings and demolish buildings if they have to. They are extraordinary powers. But the reality is…

TONY EASTLEY: When would you pull down a building? To bulldoze it to save others?

MIKE GALLACHER: If there is a risk of it and they need to make a decision in terms of bringing a building down, razing a building because it's on fire and it may well be causing problems to other buildings and it's the quickest way to do it.

Basically these powers are built upon the experiences of the authorities in the past, in terms of how do you deal with these risks.

TONY EASTLEY: People talk about it being the worst crisis in 45 years. When you talk about invoking these sort of powers, it's not just scare-mongering is it?

MIKE GALLACHER: No. I mean, when you look at last week, to give an indication, the speed at which that one fire moved - what we call the Lithgow fire - it moved something like 25 to 30 kilometres in the course of a day.

In some of these areas we don't have 25 or 30 kilometres and when the Rural Fire Service commissioner looks at me and says to me, you know, this Wednesday could be marginally a little bit less than what we had last Thursday, it's far - it's more sensible, it's obviously far more sensible to take it up to a high level and then bring it back down if need be, in terms of the approach, rather than waiting until the last moment.

That's why we made the decision that we did yesterday, because we've got a couple of days to act.

TONY EASTLEY: If the fires do join up into what people are calling a superfire or megafire I think was the description in the newspapers, Katoomba and Leura and places like that, would there be evacuations, forced evacuations in those areas?

MIKE GALLACHER: In that worst case scenario with this current, the two fires towards the western part - the Lithgow fire culminating. Then obviously areas like Blackheath, Katoomba and all those are on the Great Western Highway and that's what they're looking at, is potentially where this fire could come down towards. The Great Western Highway hasn't been cut, but I've got to say it was very close last week at Mount Victoria. And there is the potential at a worst case scenario for this to push further down.

TONY EASTLEY: Have you got the resources?

MIKE GALLACHER: Look, we're getting interstate. I think we currently have around about 189 interstate firefighters and their resources are coming through.

TONY EASTLEY: If those fires join up you'll need more though, won't you?

MIKE GALLACHER: We'll need more. Today I'm with Michael Keenan, the Minister for Justice at a federal level. He'll be with me all day today. We're going to visit some of the evacuation centres and just talk to people there in terms of their preparedness. But also to sit down with federal counterparts to see what resources they have, if there are resources available.

We had military in discussions yesterday with the state emergency management committee meeting. This is fairly high level. We've got everybody that's got potential skin of the game sitting around this table.

TONY EASTLEY: What would the military do?

MIKE GALLACHER: Well it's a matter of what resources they've got that they can use. I mean, they will have access to tankers that can assist in terms of aviation fuel, getting that to the scene. Whatever firefighting equipment that they have as well. It is a question of sitting down with every one of the authorities that potentially could have a resource that we can get access to.

TONY EASTLEY: The New South Wales Emergency Services and Police Minister Mike Gallacher.