Prime Minister Julia Gillard has visited fire-ravaged northern NSW to hear first-hand stories of people who saw, fought and escaped the 45,000-hectare blaze in their backyard.
During her visit to Coonabarabran yesterday, Ms Gillard paid tribute to the bravery and stoicism of residents of the Warrumbungles, who were hit by NSW's most destructive fire in more than a decade.
Ms Gillard heard how two friends, neighbours and fellow RFS volunteers Bob Fenwick and Dave Keirle were called into the park to help tackle the blaze.
But by the time they got back to their own homes they couldn't do anything.
"It was just all over. It was so fast," said Mr Fenwick, who has fought up to 40 fires.
His home was one of the 51 destroyed in the firestorm, which did not claim any lives.
At the Siding Spring Observatory Peter Verwayen, who lives at and looks after the site after hours, said he saw the fire come up the hill at around 4pm on Sunday just before receiving an RFS warning.
Minutes later, flames were lapping the side of the hill.
"We got off the mountain ... I think with about five to 10 minutes to spare," he told the Prime Minister.
It then took more than an hour before the RFS had confirmation that everyone was safe.
"We were very anxious for a while," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
"We actually thought they were still here."
Ms Gillard said she was overwhelmed by the stories of bravery.
Even Mr Fenwick, who fought his first bushfire at the age of 14, was obviously surprised by its ferocity, she said.
"He's a man who knows a fair bit about fire and [he] said when it took his home there was just no stopping it, that it was burning grass that had water running over it, such was the intensity of the fire," the prime minister said.
Mr Fitzsimmons said that across NSW, firefighters were seeking to strengthen "incomplete and tenuous" containment lines ahead of deteriorating conditions today.