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Fears of a 'fire cloud' in the Blue Mountains -

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ELEANOR HALL: First today to the bushfire emergency west of Sydney.

Two of the massive Blue Mountains fires have now joined into one huge fire front.

It was one of the big fears being expressed by fire authorities yesterday, but in this case the merger of the Lithgow and Mount Victoria fires is a deliberate strategy.

The firefighters have been using back burning to coax the fires to join up early, to prevent them linking up with the Springwood fire, which has done most of the damage so far.

The Blue Mountains bushfires have destroyed more than 200 homes since Thursday.

A state of emergency remains in force across New South Wales. And the state fire commissioner has ordered one of the largest mobilisations in his organisation's history, as the weather bureau warns that extreme winds and temperatures could produce horrific fire conditions tomorrow.

Our coverage today begins with Martin Cuddihy.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: While conditions have eased slightly this morning, several fires are still burning in the Blue Mountains.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS: We continue with the back-burning operation and the property protection works that have been going on in behind the communities of Berambing, right up to Mount Irvine Road, just to the west of Bilpin. Crews are in there working with the community. And those that did not choose to leave that early, area earlier now will be encouraged to stay, seek shelter as fire approaches.

But importantly, work closely with the fire fighters while we together seek to actively defend all the homes north of that, north of that Bells Line of Road area, between Bilpin and Berambing.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The New South Wales Rural Fire Service commissioner is Shane Fitzsimmons.

He says firefighters have now allowed the Mount Victoria bushfire to join with another - the State Mine Fire.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS: The fire is connected and has been connected overnight. What is, what is going on right now is some very detailed, difficult operations to draw together the forward control lines from Blackheath up towards the Grose River. And from the Grose River then back up towards the Bells Line of Road.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Allowing the two fires to join is a mitigation strategy.

It's not as hot today as the forecast for tomorrow.

If that merger was to have happened tomorrow, enough heat would be generated for the fires to create their own weather system with tornadoes and lightning strikes.

Dr Owen Price is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong.

He says it's only a possibility - but what's commonly called a Fire Cloud could form.

OWEN PRICE: The fire generates so much heat and water vapour that it pushes a smoke plume high up into the sky. And if you combine that with unstable atmosphere, the plume can go so high that it punches through the troposphere, so the stable layer there.

And essentially what happens is it turns into a thunder cloud, with the same sorts of dynamics which is including - so it's generating its own weather. And what that does in then feeds back on the fire behaviour itself so the wind speed can pick up and you get lightning. But you can even get tornadoes occurring and this all just has the general effect of intensifying the fire behaviour. So it gets more intense, spreads quicker and lots more spotting.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: It sounds like the perfect storm.

OWEN PRICE: Yes, certainly. And that's exactly what happened in some of the 2009 Victorian fires, the Canberra fires in 2003 and the latest one I know of is the Wambelong fire that happened in the Warrambungle National Park earlier this year.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: The New South Wales Minister for Emergency Services is Mike Gallacher.

This morning he likened the conditions in the Blue Mountains to a brooding demon.

To deal with it, RFS officers have been doing a lot of back-burning.

Mr Gallacher says they have been taking calculated risks in an attempt to gain control.

MIKE GALLACHER: The local firefighters in those communities are the ones who are driving this attack. Instead of waiting for the fire to simply come towards those communities, the strategies being employed by the local fire controllers up there, understanding the vulnerabilities of this fire, looking for those vulnerabilities and putting in place the high risk measures to try to stop its spread.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: In a new development this morning a storm cell has developed over the state's central west.

The RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons provided this update.

SHANE FITZSIMMONS: We've already experienced associated with this storm cell 70 kilometre gusts of winds and a little higher, that's about to come across towards the fire ground. That will present challenges in terms of the weather systems, erratic weather systems and erratic weather behaviour at the local level.

That then translates to very dangerous, very difficult fire behaviour and firefighting conditions. As you would expect, we've issued warnings to our firefighters in the field, particularly those in the more rugged, inaccessible country, to be ready for the onset of that weather, and to be planning and adjacent to safety and refuges.

And in the event that we need to, we'll also look at extractions should that be necessary.

We are tracking some lightning with the storm cell. How much ultimately comes across the back end of the ranges, we'll have to wait and see.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: A state of emergency is still in place for New South Wales.

And while currently there are no bushfire warnings, the forecast storm could change that this afternoon.

ELEANOR HALL: Martin Cuddihy reporting.