Fire evacuees in NSW's north-west were confronted with a backdrop of scorched sheep carcasses on blackened hillsides as they returned to properties reduced to charred walls and twisted iron.
Other residents around Coonabarabran were luckier, finding their homes still standing after the state's most destructive fire in more than a decade hit areas of the Warrumbungles on Sunday.
The fire has burnt 42,000 hectares and on Wednesday was burning along a 100km front after destroying 40 homes, 110 sheds, machinery, fences and untold numbers of livestock.
It also damaged buildings at the Siding Springs Observatory.
No lives have been lost in any of the state's scores of fires this month, but there are now concerns that blazes which have already threatened communities in the state's south may prove dangerous again when hot and windy conditions return on Friday.
In the Warrumbungles, shearer Andrew Hawkins knew it was time to get out when he saw the towering smoke plume and heard the roar of the fire approaching his property at the foot of Cow Mountain at Bugaldie on Sunday.
"I tried to get my sheep up the hill towards the grass flats but they didn't want to follow," Mr Hawkins told AAP on Wednesday.
"I thought `if I don't go, I'm going to die like you'.
"It was flanking me on both sides."
For the next two days Mr Hawkins said he had butterflies in his stomach, couldn't eat and was praying for his sheep.
When he returned, his house was intact but his worst fears for his stock were realised.
The bodies of his chickens were bloated and charred and nine scorched ewes and a ram lay dead on the hillside, like black statues knocked sideways but for the pink insides that had spilled out.
"I was wanting to get home to them," he said.
In Bugaldie, crumpled tin, burnt-out tractors and warped iron gates marked spots where homes used to be.
The ferocity of the blaze had transformed aluminium cans into liquid metal.
On Wednesday, Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the number of homes destroyed could rise as assessors entered burnt areas.
Mr Rogers said fire crews had worked hard during recent milder weather to stop the fire reaching Coonabarabran and a large communications tower that would be a big loss to the community and emergency crews if it was destroyed.
"It's looking okay but it's still such a big fire we're very hesitant to suggest the danger has completely eased," he told AAP.
Another fire to the north of Coonabarabran was keeping the Newell Highway closed but Mr Rogers said it was hoped it would be contained by Wednesday night.
At mid-afternoon on Wednesday the RFS had 82 fires listed across the state, 15 of them uncontained, including fires in the Gwydir, Namoi and Tamworth areas in the state's north.
Mr Rogers said there were revived concerns about fires that threatened homes in NSW's south last week, including the Deans Gap fire in the Shoalhaven and the Yarrabin fire in the Cooma-Monaro region.
"It's looking like a severe fire danger day on Friday all the way from Sydney right down the eastern side of the ranges and then along the Victorian border past Wagga to the Riverina area," he said.
The Insurance Council of Australia on Wednesday declared the Warrumbungle fire a catastrophe, prompting the creation of a special insurers' task force to assess damage and work with communities.
The Department of Primary Industries is assessing stock losses in the NSW fires and expects around 10,000 head to have been lost, mainly sheep and lambs.
ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Young and counsellors on Wednesday met 30 university staff and their families in Coonabarabran who worked at the Siding Spring Observatory to assess their immediate needs.
Urgent work was being undertaken to restore electricity and mains water to the site, the university said, and spot fires were continuing to be extinguished.
ANU has approximately $80 million of assets at Siding Spring Observatory, which are fully covered by insurance.