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Residents return to their homes -

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LEANOR HALL: The fire danger has eased in the Blue Mountains today and there is huge relief that firefighters successfully protected all the homes that were under threat during yesterday's potentially catastrophic conditions.

In the lower Blue Mountains residents of Faulconbridge have started returning home.

Yesterday afternoon those living on Chapman Parade were ordered to evacuate as extreme winds fanned the fires.

Today the weather conditions are a lot calmer, and there are fewer helicopters in the air, but the bushfires are still burning.

As Martin Cuddihy reports from Faulconbridge.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Like the smell of smoke, the threat still lingers in the lower Blue Mountains.

Today the weather is a lot calmer. It's not as hot and the winds aren't as strong.

Residents who evacuated at the height of the emergency have been going home this morning.

Tony Malone and his wife Pauline are glad to be home.

TONY MALONE: Yeah, we've come back in this morning. Just arrived. Everything's intact, even the backyard shed which is, you know, the bloke shed which is very important so it's all good yeah. There is still a lot of smoke around and there's, obviously you can still see fires burning down in our valley.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: On the Malone's back patio are blackened leaves. They consider themselves lucky because yesterday they would have been embers.

Dotted around their home are still containers of water. Sitting in the morning sun in their back yard is a solitary gas cylinder.

They left when fires began igniting in their yard.

TONY MALONE: I was out running around spotting fires and calling the RFS (Rural Fire Service) down and you know, trying to get those spot fires out. It was pretty hectic.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Sounds like it got pretty close to your home yesterday?

TONY MALONE: Yeah, just with the actual fire front itself really didn't impact until about I'd suggest after about 11 o'clock it started to get really bad. There was just spot fires coming up through the yards and then of course the wind came and where that came the fire front, we had the water bombers overhead and then just as we were evacuating up the street, the firies, the RFS and the local or the state fire brigades starting to roll into all the houses as the fire escalated.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: What was the catalyst where you decided it was time to go?

TONY MALONE: My wife was the catalyst actually for me leaving. She's, you know, she started to panic. Obviously she was concerned. We had the cars loaded and she just wanted to get out safe and well, and I appreciate that so it took me a little while to get into the car but eventually we did. And even as we were driving out the driveway spot fires were kicking off out in the front yards of the houses as we drove up the road so yeah, it was probably time for us to get out.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Further up Chapman Parade lives Tony and Jacqui Glynn. The flames didn't come too close to their home, but they have a sense that they will.

TONY GLYNN: It's hot and dry, so inevitably fire will come.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Tony Glynn says he's expecting a long hot summer. And with that comes elevated levels of stress.

TONY GLYNN: Yeah, its stressful just having the fires around the place because you're always on the alert and you're wondering whether or not you've got to get the pumps going or run away, go tearing up the road or whatever. But yeah, there's a fair bit. It's quite tiring actually and the smoke occasionally. It's just the whole heightened atmosphere of the place, it's tiring.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: Does it get to you?

TONY GLYNN: Oh, not dramatically I don't think. No more than anyone else. There's lots of other people around who are in the same situation and no, I think we'll be right because I have an enormous amount of confidence in the organisational ability of the RFS and the people who back them. Those people, they're just unbelievable.

We had a spot fire down here. That's the most stressful thing. We walked around the corner of our shed and there was a spot fire and I didn't have my mobile phone with me, by the time I walked back to the house, rang 000 and walked back to the shed which is all of 40 metres, the spotter helicopter had arrived, and then it wasn't any more than 30 seconds later before the first water bomber arrived and they dropped four loads of water, you know, six tonne of water onto the spot fire and in that time we had four tankers arrive as well. So the organisational capability just staggers me. They're just on the ball those guys and they should just be totally congratulated.

MARTIN CUDDIHY: But he says he loves the Blue Mountains. And after a decade living here, he wouldn't settle anywhere else.

ELEANOR HALL: Martin Cuddihy reporting from Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains.