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The kids were still in school as the bushfires approached

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.

Messages to Stephanie's phone

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.

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My sister Anna Siwak lives in Glenmore Park at the foot of the Blue Mountains and had to be ready to leave with her 20-month-old son and eight-week-old daughter, my nephew and niece. She told her little boy that they might have a sleep over at Nonna's house and then spent the afternoon and evening monitoring the news.

When she heard the fire had jumped the river she was scared. News that firefighters had quickly contained it was a huge relief although I would have felt better if she had evacuated anyway.

The smoke reached my home in Castle Hill, a 40 minute drive away. I took this photo as I drove home after picking my children up from school.

98 fires are still burning  across the state the major concern for firefighters at this point is the fire at Ruttleys Road on the NSW Central Coast where an emergency warning remains in place.

86,000 hectares of country have been burned and hundreds of homes lost. Police are searching for both victims and survivors.

Additional firefighters have been arriving from the ACT, Victoria, South Australian and Queensland to help exhausted NSW firefighters battle the remaining blazes.

When a bushfire emergency takes place, many of us can feel complacent due to the websites, iPhone apps and text messages we receive but in yesterday's conditions, the situation can often become worse and move faster than technology. The same rules apply. Be ready to leave and if you're very concerned, go. Especially if you have children.

And sadly the advice is to leave your home. Not many families have the right equipment to save a home and it is best to leave with your family intact.

Tony Lawson lives in the Adeliade Hills in the bushfire zone, one of the most prepared areas in the country thanks to measures undertaken after the Ash Wednesday bushfires. He has these words of advice. "Our property is fully irrigated. Sprinklers every metre right around the house with two emergency generators. This is for every house in the street plus a million litre tank at the top of the street plus a fire track to escape. If you have no preparations, then go. Lives are worth more than houses. A house can be replaced."

The Red Cross is today asking for donations. You can find out more information and donate here.

The Salvation Army is asking for clothes and other items for families who have lost everything. Find your nearest drop-off point here.

Families who need emergency shelter for pets can contact Guard Dog Training Centre.

A hotline has been set up for those needing information on 1800 227 228. You can also follow Twitter at #bushfires.

Do you have a brave bushfire story to tell? 

Image credits: Supplied, Facebook