HUNDREDS of homes were destroyed or badly damaged in more than 90 fires that ravaged the state last week, including large parts of Lake Macquarie.
Chaos broke out about midday on Thursday, when temperatures reached 35 degrees and north-westerly winds swept through at 80km/h.
NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers described last week's hellish scenes as "the worst fire emergency NSW has seen in over a decade".
The first emergency warning was issued at Heatherbrae at noon on Thursday as fire lapped Newcastle Airport and forced it to close.
In the south, one hectare of scrub in Oakland Street, Glendale, burnt out of control for most of the day.
Blazes were also attended to at Hunter Sports High School, Dora Creek and Awaba.
Lake Munmorah was alight by mid-afternoon as fire approached Kanangra Road - Gwandalan's only exit. It soon spread across Rutleys Road in Doyalson North, near the Pacific Highway.
Residents from Catherine Hill Bay, Nords Wharf, Caves Beach and Murray's Beach were evacuated by nightfall.
By Friday morning, fire had leapt across Tomago Road, Cabbage Tree Road and the Pacific Highway in Heatherbrae.
The highway was blocked off from Lake Munmorah to Swansea and more than 200 people had registered at Swansea RSL's makeshift evacuation centre.
Nords Wharf residents Bob and Lyn Hall, pictured on page 1, arrived at the centre at 6pm on Thursday.
They were still waiting for news at 11am on Friday.
Mrs Hall was working at Catherine Hill Bay Bowling Club on Thursday afternoon when the fire at Lake Munmorah reached its peak.
She said it was not long before everyone was urged to get to safer ground.
"We saw it coming. The police came into the club and told us to get everyone to Swansea RSL," Mrs Hall said.
'When we came here [to the RSL], I discovered Nords Wharf had been evacuated too. We didn't even know if we had a home to go back to."
The Halls were told on Friday morning that homes two streets away from their home in Marine Parade were under threat.
Media reports that morning frightened them, showing how close the photographs were to their home.
On Friday it was revealed the Big Prawn service station south of Swansea had been scorched.
Affected year 12 students were relocated to sit their HSC exams, and ambulances were on standby for asthma-related calls as thick smoke blanketed most of NSW.
Newcastle Airport was reopened at 4.30am and flights were back on schedule at 6am.
On Friday and Saturday, the mercury fell to the 20s and major fires at Heatherbrae and Lake Munmorah were controlled.
Conditions spiked again in the Blue Mountains as The Star went to print.