When you have children, how do you know when to stay and when to go during a bushfire emergency? Do you await instruction or use your judgement?
Western Sydney resident Emily Batchelor says her bushfire rule is, "Charged phone, full tank of petrol, important documents/memory stick at hand and an emergency bag. There is no stay and defend when small kids are involved."
And that seems to be the view of most families because no matter how closely fires are monitored, no matter how many fire fighters are trying to contain the blaze and no matter how good the communication via TV, radio, smart phones, Facebook and Twitter, it can all change in a moment.
Thousands of NSW families are now homeless after the worst bushfires in a decade swept through parts of the Blue Mountains , North Richmond and the Central Coast.
Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons fought back tears during a press conference, describing the tireless work of his firefighters. We have the best firefighters in the world. There's no doubt about it," he said. That we do. But even the best firefighters need a hand. Reinforcements are now arriving from around the country to assist with the 98 fires still burning.
It's still being considered an emergency situation.
The smoke spread quickly and residents as far away as Sydney took photos of smoke and a red sun. It was difficult to breathe. There was instant concern for friends and family. We all knew someone in or near the fire zone.
Many families evacuated to the homes of family and friends instead of waiting for instructions that may never come or could be too late. Often the smoke makes the situation so difficult. The sky was dark and ominous. It became difficult to breathe and see through the smoke.
The Rural Fire Service were prepared for extreme fire danger yesterday but the wind made conditions 'catastrophic'. They acted quickly. The fires that had been burning moved quickly towards schools and homes. Schools were evacuated. Crying and distressed children were picked up by parents and taken home.
Stephanie Rogers is one such Winmalee resident who was called to pick her terrified children up from school. The Blue Mountains resident started receiving text messages from the RFS in the afternoon. They became more frequent and urgent. She was then instructed to pick up her children from school and took them home and making sure to keep the TV off the news channels so they wouldn't become more scared.
"I decided to go," she explained. "The smoke was really thick and both my boys have asthma and were struggling to breathe."
The priority today is to check the homes that have been destroyed for victims and to contain the remaining fires. Already we've received word that a 63-year-old man died of a heart attack on the Central Coast as he desperately tried to defend his Lake Munmorah home. Authorities are warning the public to brace themselves for news of further victims.
When you have children and a bushfire is near you can only do so much. Make sure you car is full of petrol, clear your gutters and wet your lawn, pack your "Bugout Bags" for a quick exit. Most fill them with essentials - clothes, food, favourite toys.