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Hundreds of firefighters join battle against -

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ELEANOR HALL: We begin today with the latest on Sydney's bushfire emergency.

Hundreds of firefighters from New South Wales and interstate have now been mobilised to attack some of the worst fires in New South Wales in decades, and they're bracing for even more extreme weather conditions this week.

The authorities say their biggest fear is that the three massive Blue Mountains fires ringing Sydney could link up and hit the densely populated western suburbs.

Many crews spent the night in the high country around Lithgow where the largest of the fires is burning. Brendan Trembath reports from one of the Lithgow firefighting bases.

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER 1: Alright, ready guys?

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER 2: Okay.

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER 1: So we're going out to Lawson's Long Alley area at the moment. So, alright? Everyone belts on?

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER 2: Okay, yeah, ready to go.

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER 1: Okay, let's go.

(Sound of car driving off)

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Fire crews from far and wide hit the road this morning to attack a series of large fires and steep bushland west of Sydney. Peter Harrison is from a brigade based in O'Connell near Bathurst in the state's central west.

PETER HARRISON: It's just a very large fire. And some parts are under control and some parts are yet to be. But we're just working on it at the moment.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: You're a fairly tall fellow. How did the flames compare to you?

PETER HARRISON: Oh look, most of the hard stuff, the really hard stuff, was done on Thursday when the fire started and the big winds were up. Talking to the guys that were on the fire trucks that day, there were some really hairy situations.

For us last night, it was more about getting some areas under control and backburning and things like that. So it wasn't the size of the flames, it was really just getting some containment lines done.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Backburning is where you use the flames against other flames. But it sounds quite tricky to do.

PETER HARRISON: Yeah. It's got its own sort of nuances and certainly there's a hazard with it. You're actually trying to set fire to the bush and almost beat the fire to the punch the next day, so that there's nothing left to burn.

And obviously you're looking for a hard service like a road or a fire trail or something you can clear and then you're sort of lighting the fire, your own fire, on the fire side of that and working your way towards it to create a blacked-out area, as they call it.

But, yeah, it's great if you've got a few really experienced guys on the crew, which we're lucky we have, 'cause you really want people that know the ins and outs and what can go wrong and how to do things right. So we're really fortunate we've got a great team.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: And how did you get involved with the rural fire service?

PETER HARRISON: Oh, you know, you live in the country, that's what you do, you just join. And away you go.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: And what's your background in the country?

PETER HARRISON: Oh look, I run a little coffee roasting business out here towards Bathurst. But my family, they all live further west and they've always been involved in the RFS in some shape or form.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Fellow O'Connell brigade member Geoff Burton was also on duty last night. It was an amazing sight.

GEOFF BURTON: It's quite spectacular. Like, of a daytime you'll see smoke and smoke and smoke. And of a night-time it's just glows - red glows, there's trees on fire, it's just… and then trees crashing that have been burning for a few hours.

And that's why you don't walk into there, because you don't want to get hit by a tree. But it's just quite spectacular, the glow of the fires. And yeah you don't need a torch or anything because, yeah, it's beautiful in its own way.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: I noticed there driving around last night, it wasn't hard to find where the fires were on the peaks around here.

GEOFF BURTON: No they're… and again we rendezvous in a place like this and we're told where to go, and then we get to the spot and we rendezvous again and we know exactly where to go.

The organisation of a fire like this, a section 44 - which is a major fire - the organisation behind it is just incredible. All the training that people have done. It saves lives, it saves property, it saves a lot of heartache for a lot of people.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: What's your background? How did you get into this?

GEOFF BURTON: Oh look, I'm like most of the volunteers. I'm a tradesperson. I'm an electrician and I've done a lot of other types of things too. But you just... well, the O'Connell brigade, it's just a small brigade. But a very nice bunch of men and women.

And it's a social thing as well as we know we're doing good for the community. And you never know, the fire that happens in your own local area could be your neighbour or your friend or the person down the road.

So that's the… you know you're doing well. You want to do well and you want to help and it's a nice way to help, and the bonuses are you make a lot of good friends. And lifelong friends!

'Cause tonight, last night we spent, we probably spent about 18 hours out all night, and you just get to know people really well. And it takes a lot of time to build those bonds. But they last forever, I think.

ELEANOR HALL: That's volunteer fire-fighter Geoff Burton, ending that report by Brendan Trembath.