Three lives, 150 homes, hundreds of koalas: These are the faces of NSW's bushfire crisis.

When Emily Smith saw the pile of scorching, twisted metal and rubble that was her home, she let out an animalistic cry. Turning to her young daughter she sobbed, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, bubby”.

9 News Sydney captured the little girl, arms around her mum, comforting her through her own tears; “It’s alright. It’s alright”.

Emily’s home, in the town of Bobin, is among 45 to have been destroyed in deadly bushfires that have torn through northern NSW, claiming three lives. Among the dead was grandmother of six, Vivian Chaplain, who died trying to protect her home at Wytaliba.

Video via 9 News

For a time on Friday, Emily’s 14-year-old son, Jake, feared Emily may too have perished. He and Emily’s partner, Nathan, came home to find their property ablaze. Wet t-shirts wrapped around their heads, they turned a single hose against the flames, unaware that Emily had made it out safely.

Emily told 9 News it took just 30 minutes for their property to be reduced to ash.

“There was nothing he could do,” she said. “He tried. He watched his own house burn to the ground, and his mum wasn’t there to hold him. His mum wasn’t there to cuddle him.”

“The most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.”

As of Monday night, there were 60 fires burning across the state, 28 of which were uncontained. And the situation is expected to deteriorate today.

Firefighters in eastern NSW are bracing for never-before-seen conditions, with temperatures soaring into the high 30s, combined with low humidity and strong winds.

The roughly 6 million people in the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, and the Illawarra and Shoalhaven regions have been placed under catastrophic fire warnings, forcing the closure of more than 600 schools and TAFE campuses out of concerns for student safety.


Meanwhile, those in North Coast, Southern and Central Ranges, New England, Northern Slopes and North Western regions are facing extreme fire danger — the second-highest warning level.

The situation prompted Premier Gladys Berejiklian to declare a state of emergency for NSW, affording the RFS special powers to evacuate property and shut down electricity.

Queensland, too, is bracing for the worst. Some 65 fires are burning across the state, including one in Cobraball in central Queensland that has destroyed eight homes and damaged five more.

According to AAP, NSW Emergency Services Minister, David Elliott, said residents are facing “what could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.

“We have lost everything.”

Those caught up in the blazes have described the ferocity and speed at which the flames tore through their communities.

Zoe Colligan, 20, and her week-old baby, Archer, managed to get to safety before fire destroyed her home in Koorainghat, just outside Taree, on Friday. She told that the blaze crept up on the property in less than an hour.

“We have lost everything. All our clothes. Everything we had for our bub and all our furniture,” she told

“It was terrifying … scary … we are in a bit of a shock.”

She told the outlet she and her partner were surviving on the bare essentials; some clothes, nappies, and a bit of food.

“We have no idea what to do,” she said. “To have a baby eight days old and this on top… it’s not what you want.”

Wildlife: the other victims.

As well as destroying more than 150 homes across NSW over the past week, the bushfire crisis has claimed vital habitat for the local koala population.

Sue Ashton, President of Koala Conservation Australia, estimated that up to 350 of the 600 koalas in the Lake Innes Nature Reserve had perished in fires.

“We think most of the animals were incinerated – it’s like a cremation,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. “They have been burnt to ashes in the trees.”

A koala in recovery for burns from the Lake Innes fire. Image: Koala Hospital Port Macquarie.

Several injured koalas have been rescued and taken to the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie, where they are anaesthetised so their burns can be cleaned, treated and bandaged.

Sue Ashton told the ABC, that depending on the severity of the burns, recovery could take 6-9 months at which point they will be released back into the wild. But only once it's rejuvenated.

"We'll keep them here and we'll keep feeding them — what we call 'room service' — everyday, fresh leaves until that habitat returns enough for us to take them back there."

Many residents, too, will have to wait to return to the region, with new fires expected to break out today.

But those for whom it's been safe enough to go back, like Emily Smith and her family, have been met with devastation.

As 9 News captured, there were a few solaces to be found among the ruins; a windchime from her daughter's fairy garden, and their cat, somehow alive.

As they buried their faces in their beloved pet's black fur, Emily's young daughter sobbed again, this time out of happiness.

"Our kitty didn't die!"

For up-to-date information on the NSW bushfire emergency, including evacuation warnings, visit the NSW Rural Fire Service website.

For information on school closures, visit the NSW Education website.