Dozens of residents who survived the 1000-hectare blaze that tore through bushland west of Sydney say they never received an emergency phone alert as the fire bore down on their suburbs.
Locals packed into a Winmalee school hall on Thursday night for a meeting with Blue Mountains City Council, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Police and Rural Fire Service (RFS) representatives.
High temperatures and strong winds had fanned flames around Winmalee earlier this week, plunging the region into emergency.
Locals were warned to evacuate or prepare for impact and firefighters were still water bombing the burning bushland on Thursday.
But a show of hands at the community forum revealed about a third of those present never received an emergency text alert on Tuesday.
An RFS official told the crowd the problem would be investigated and may have been due to individual phone service providers.
“Getting this information out is really important,” he said.
“I don’t issue emergency alerts lightly.”
Leeanne Connor was one local who did receive the text, but said it came too late for her to evacuate.
The Hawkesbury Heights mum told AAP of her frantic efforts to gather her belongings, her dog and an elderly neighbour before heading to the local primary school for her children.
“I’d been getting texts from my friends saying `the fire’s broken containment, you’ve got to get out of there’,” she said.
By the time she received the official text, though, a roadblock was in place on her street.
Her only option then was to shelter there while her three young children spent the night with family.
“I just wanted to be with my kids,” she told AAP.
One woman at Thursday’s forum took the microphone simply to thank the firies who saved her home.
She recalled her terror as the flames spread to her street.
“(But the firefighters) kept us in the loop, knocking on doors, helping out,” she said.
“It was unbelievable.”
Other residents voiced concerns that hazard reduction burns may have been to blame, and should have been carried out earlier in the year.
AAP understands investigations into what sparked the blaze may be complete as early as Friday.