A week of winter infernos could indicate an earlier and worse than usual fire season ahead, one of the Hunter Region's top firefighters has warned.
Emergency crews were working throughout Friday to control a bushfire that passed within a few metres of homes in suburban Belmont on Thursday night and had burnt 79 hectares as of Friday afternoon.
It capped off a busy week for first responders, after firefighters spent most of the day extinguishing a bushfire that threatened the Pacific Motorway about 25km down the road from Belmont, at Killingworth, earlier on Thursday and about 48 hours after a blaze gutted the historic Awaba House at Booragul.
Fire and Rescue NSW acting Superintendent Greg Windeatt told the Newcastle Herald on Friday the week's events could be "a bit of a predictor for what could be the fire season ahead of us" - that it could begin earlier and potentially be worse than usual.
"We have had an unusually dry period in the last 12 months right across the state," he said.
"With that element of dryness, and as we move towards the later part of winter and we start getting warmer weather... it could mean the fire season will start in earnest.
"If we get some rain over a week or two, some substantial rain, it would definitely delay the fire season. It will depend on the weather."
Acting Superintendent Windeatt said he hoped the Belmont fire would be extinguished some time on Friday night.
He said ember attacks had been a major concern on Thursday night as "the fire advanced quite rapidly".
The Rural Fire Service classified the fire as 'being controlled' on Friday afternoon, advising residents in Golding Avenue, Railway Crescent, Kalaroo Road, John Darling Avenue, John Fisher Road and Siloam Drive to continue to monitor the situation.
A community update said firefighters were "using the favourable conditions to undertake direct attack and backburning where required."
The cause of the blaze has not yet been determined. Firefighters and police are investigating whether the inferno started in suspicious circumstances, but Fire and Rescue NSW investigators were still working to find the spot where it originated on Friday afternoon.
The fire, which claimed no lives or homes, skimmed the edge of Belmont Christian School, where emergency crews set up their staging area on Thursday night. The school was closed on Friday to allow firefighters and police to continue their work.
Lake Macquarie City Council said the Fernleigh Track, between Belmont TAFE and Kalaroo Road, would be closed until at least early next week.
The Newcastle Herald spoke with several residents on Friday from the streets that were threatened by the fire.
Many spoke of how they packed up in preparation to evacuate if the order came and used their garden hoses to stave off the embers falling everywhere. They all praised firefighters for keeping them safe.
A Golding Avenue resident who asked to be known only as Brendan said the head of the fire came towards his home before it split in two and changed direction, passing about 50m from his back fence.
"The firies went through my yard here and they were forming basically a barrier with their hoses and their water and just trying to shield [it] from all the embers that were flying over," he said.
"It was a bit hairy at the time but the wind was directing it away from us."
A few blocks away in John Darling Avenue, the fire raged across the road from Greg Blackler's home.
Mr Blackler said he was confident that fire crews had the situation in hand, but "it was pretty scary".
"There were lots of flames," he said. "It was above the trees."
Belmont resident Jane McNamee described the wall of fire that passed only metres from her John Darling Avenue home on Thursday night as "a big inferno".
Ms McNamee told the Newcastle Herald on Friday a neighbour knocked on the door the previous evening to tell her a fire was approaching.
Within 15 minutes the view of bushland across the road went from having a red glow to flames shooting out from the tree-tops.
Like many in her street, Ms McNamee packed a car in case she was told to leave her home. She praised firefighters for their efforts in stopping the blaze jumping from the bush into the suburb.
But she said the scene was "quite horrific".
"It's pretty scary - the wind was taking it really quickly," Ms McNamee said on Friday, as fire crews came closer to extinguishing the blaze.
"It was just all lit up in red and there was ash in your face - it was everywhere, blowing in the wind.
"There were embers everywhere, we've got embers out the back. It was a bit of a scene."
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