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Sydney bushfire continues to burn

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Residents in Sydney's south-west face an anxious wait on Sunday night as a bushfire continues to burn out of control, reported Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

Throughout Sunday, residents in Voyager Point, Pleasure Point, Sandy Point Illawong, Menai, Bangor and Barden Ridge were advised not to leave their properties and to protect themselves in expectation of an ember attack from the out-of-control fire.

As the bushfire approached, residents were urged to stay indoors to shelter from the heat of the blaze.

Strong winds are pushing the fire in a north-easterly direction towards Georges River, although conditions began to ease on Sunday night.
Just before 6pm, the NSW Rural Fire Service downgraded the fire from Emergency Warning to Watch & Act.

It has so far burnt more than 2430 hectares of bushland from Casula and Holsworthy at the fire's western edge, to Alfords Point on the eastern front, Barden Ridge in the south and other suburbs in between.

The bushfire, which started in grasslands in Casula on Saturday afternoon, worsened on Sunday as conditions deteriorated and wind gusts increased in speed.

Fire authorities issued and re-issued emergency warnings throughout the day for the affected suburbs, urging residents to stay at home and take shelter because it was "too late to leave".
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that more than 500 men and women were working on the fire.

Regular statements throughout the day repeated the same message: "It is too late to leave."
"There has been an increase of fire activity across the fire ground," the statements warned.
"Firefighters are in these areas and are in place to undertake property protection as required," the RFS said.

The temperature in Sydney reached 25 degrees on Sunday, while strong westerly wind gusts exceeded 50km/h.
On Sunday evening, the winds began to ease, assisting the firefighters trying to bring the blaze under control.
RFS spokesman Greg Allen said a number of homes have been impacted in West Menai and Barden Ridge, but the extent of the damage will not be known until building assessors can look at the properties once the blaze subsides.
'The sky is all black'

Stuck at home with his family all of Sunday, hairdresser Angelo Nasso has been constantly checking updates online.

Around lunchtime he stepped outside to take a look, describing the scene as "pretty full on".
"From my front door, the sky is all black," Mr Nasso told Fairfax Media.

He doesn't know how close the flames got to his house in Pleasure Point, but said smoke engulfed the sky and visibility was low.

"There has been a flurry of activity, with helicopters coming backwards and forwards filling up in the river," he said.

"We've received notifications from the RFS to stay indoors and keep an eye on ember fires. We're not to evacuate because it's too late.

"I drove to the end of our suburb to Heathcote Road, and you could see where the fires had reached and the skies were still black."

Heathcote Road, the main arterial road north and south, has been closed all of Sunday, and is expected to remain closed until Wednesday.

Essentially, Mr Nasso and his family were trapped in their home.
However, they were well-placed: their property backs on to Georges River.
"We've been going through our fire plan - wetting gutters and trees."

"We've lived here three years but this is our first experience with bushfires. A lot of older residents have said to remain calm."
Living next to the river has its advantages, Mr Nasso said.

"We've all set up canoes and dinghies and set up plans if things turn for the worst."
While it has been an anxious weekend, Mr Nasso said there have been some positives.
"It's been a really comforting experience with our neighbours who have been here," he said.
"We've got young kids, and there's been a real sense of community.

"Everyone is happy to help, offer advice and offer additional shelter. We've offered our place for refuge if things get out of control. Everyone's been positive in a stressful situation."
However, things could have been very different for the Nasso family.

On Saturday, Mr Nasso was in Liverpool when the fires began to worsen, and he feared he wouldn't be able to make it home to his family because of road closures.

"One of my clients lives across the river. He got in contact with me and offered to help me across the river."

"I drove to his place from Liverpool, and I canoed across the river with him."
"It was probably a two-minute canoe ride. It was pitch black, I was holding a torch and we got across. It was pretty funny actually!"

"So I got home last night about 8pm, otherwise I would have been separated from my family."
Mr Nasso said the communication from the authorities had been excellent.
"This morning about 3am we got a warning texted to us. There were firies doing the rounds on our street, they were checking for embers."

Sleepless night ahead
Despite the fire being downgraded to Watch & Act, for many people Sunday night is likely to be a sleepless one as they wait for any news about the fire.

And for the state's 500 men and women firefighters battling the blaze on the ground and in the air, it will be an exhausting night.

Earlier on Sunday morning, the fire had eased after threatening properties on Saturday. But it was a short-lived break with wind gusts increasing, bringing more homes into the danger.

Visiting the Heathcote Fire Control Centre, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "With the wind increasing in strength, the situation is worsening but there is outstanding effort to control this fire being undertaken."

Earlier on Sunday, visiting the Rural Fire Service headquarters, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a huge relief that the fire had not done more damage.

"It's absolutely a miracle that overnight no one has been reported as having serious injury and hundreds of properties have been saved," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.
Electricity company Ausgrid, meanwhile, said heat from the bushfires was impacting the high voltage lines.

"Customers may experience short interruptions to power supply due to voltage dips," Ausgrid said.
Two evacuation centres have been set up at Moorebank Sports Club and Gymea Tradies Club.
Affected residents can visit the centres to take shelter.

Heathcote Road is closed in both directions from Lucas Heights to Holsworthy between Macarthur Drive and New Illawarra Road.

The road is likely to remain closed until at least Wednesday, according to the Transport Management Centre, with motorists advised to plan an alternative route for the peak commutes.
The T8 Airport and South line was also partially affected, with buses replacing trains in both directions between Glenfield and East Hills until 3.30pm on Sunday.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

NSW Police had earlier speculated that a grass fire at Casula, to which emergency services were first alerted at 2.45pm on Saturday, may have been deliberately lit.

Police from Liverpool Police Area Command said they were appealing for witnesses in relation to an out-of-control grass fire that started on Saturday afternoon in the vicinity of Leacocks Reserve, Casula.

That fire had spread through Moorebank, Wattle Grove and Holsworthy. A crime scene has been established.

Premier Berejiklian promised "a full investigation".
"The community will deem it absolutely unforgivable if this fire was deliberately lit," she said.
RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said while conditions had eased on Sunday night, the situation was still delicate.

"It will be a very long night for residents and firefighters tonight," Mr Rogers said.
"Still quite a difficult day ahead tomorrow. We've got a long way to go before we're out of the woods with this fire."

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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