The earth seems sterile as far as the eye can see. The fields are burnt brown, the trees dead from the roots, leaving the famous Australian bush a bait box that could trigger even worse fires in the coming months.
Even without the flames licking their homes, residents are threatened: Murrurundi is one of several cities that is running out of steam.
"If you drink beer, you're fine," said local Warren Bramley when asked what it's like to live with the drought.
"Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of forest fire conditions in Australia and worldwide," according to the country's Bureau of Meteorology.
The fire season is getting longer, temperatures are rising and rainfall is falling. The bush has been drying since January 2017, the worst drought ever recorded. New South Wales has received less than 125 mm (5 inches) of rain each year for the past three years. This has never happened before, nor has the ladder of fires that ignited that arid bush this summer.
Murrurundi, about a three-hour drive north-west of Sydney, was at the heart of this. The city has not seen significant rainfall for three years and the river that crosses it has dried up. The water is instead transported by trucks that make between 10 and 20 trips every day. The city would be completely dry in three days if the trucks stopped running. Drivers have become local heroes.
Rebecca Willard, a bartender from the Royal Hotel, told CNN that she must shower with her two young children to save water, before admitting a little embarrassed to do three loads of washes this week in an attempt to keep your children in clean clothes. The local council authorizes only two laundry washes per house per week.
Outside Murrurundi, award-winning racehorses give dust to arid pastures. Race money keeps the thoroughbreds fed on hay elsewhere. This is not possible for local independent sheep and cattle farmers, many of whom have been forced to send valuable herds to the slaughterhouse because it is too expensive to feed them.
& # 39; Dry yourself completely & # 39;
The Australian outback is famous for its arid conditions and red soil, but it is not the only part of the country that experiences severe droughts.
The country of sheep and cattle just over an hour south of Sydney is also dry. Known as "Little England" for an atypical climate in the driest continent on Earth, the Southern Highlands are no longer a green and pleasant land.
James Galbraith and his father Bill have grown cows that have lived in the family for over 130 years. This year's drought is the worst that Bill has seen in more than 50 years as a cow.
Young Galbraith said he had to take a second job off the farm to make ends meet, and he sold most of his herd so that the cows didn't snatch up what's left of his grass. He wants to preserve the potting soil for when they finally have some adequate rain, which the Meteorological Office predicts could arrive in April.
"It's not just dry on the surface," said James Galbraith. "It's dry all the way. So what we're seeing are trees that suffer and pastures. For us farmers, we're just holding on."
He added that although he was unsure whether the current conditions were the result of climate change caused by man, he hoped they were: "Then we may be able to do something about it," he said.
Catalyst for climate action?
Murrurundi is located in the middle of the coal country of New South Wales. Trains run through the city every hour from open pit to the coast, where coal is exported to Japan, China and India.
"The overwhelming majority of Australians see climate change as a real problem, see climate change as a man-made problem and say something needs to be done about it," said Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Center for Climate and Energy Policy at Australian National University.
This, however, puts them at odds with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an important supporter of the fossil fuel industry who has faced fierce criticism for his management of the fire crisis.
In 2017, treasurer Morrison then brought a piece of coal into a parliamentary session. "This is coal. Don't be afraid, don't be afraid," he said, mocking the opposition. "It is the coal that has guaranteed for over 100 years that Australia has enjoyed a competitive energy advantage that has provided prosperity for Australian businesses."
Since then, Morrison's climate rhetoric has faded slightly – he acknowledged the link between climate change and extreme weather and has affirmed his commitment to reducing emissions. But he also said that the government will only pursue "sensible" policies and that there is no "one policy, whether it is the climate or not", that can fully protect Australia from fires.
About 80% of all energy consumed in Australia comes from non-renewable sources and stopping the country's dependence on carbon will not be easy, Jotzo said, but this tragic fire season could be a catalyst for the political change.
"This crisis with fires and drought is the kind of thing that will greatly increase public awareness that nature is important, that climate change is happening," he said. "We could see political change as a consequence of this."
"Initially, I didn't think we would be able to hold out for so long," James Galbraith told CNN on his Southern Highlands cattle farm. "It's amazing how resilient the country is, but if we miss the spring that is coming – this will put a nail in the coffin."