UNDER the shade of a eucalypt, a group of exhausted firefighters stop for lunch.
Smoke billows from the Moonbi mountains around them, in an eerily calm haven away from the flames.
NSW Rural Fire Service North Division Commander Graeme Whitten is perched on the top of his truck while the sound of spotter planes above ring through the air.
Each day he and others are up at 5am and home by 9pm if they're lucky, fighting a fire police believe was deliberately lit.
"You just can't imagine what they're thinking, I try not to think about it because I can't understand why someone would do that," Mr Whitten said.
"You feel like strapping them to a tree in front of a fire, but obviously they've got mental illness.
"It's very upsetting for people, we've got crews here all night doing 12-hour days."
The 4200 hectare blaze trapped crews who battled to save homes off Bendemeer Station Road on Wednesday night.
In a sustained air attack about 20 to 30 homes in the fire's path were saved, along with the telecommunications tower that houses emergency service satellites for the region.
Tamworth RFS Superintendent Allyn Purkiss told the Leader the fire had a perimeter more than 55km long.
"It would have been pretty scary stuff - and they stayed there for a number of hours, and then were able to get out this morning," he said.
The Moonbi fire was dropped to advice level on Thursday as crew got the upper hand.
Crews have back-burned in the north-east corner in an attempt to stop the blaze from reaching the Oxley Highway.
The rugged mountainous terrain has just added to frustration, with every 10 degrees steeper the land, the fire doubles in speed.
Two strike teams from the Western Region are backing up locals, more than 70 firefighters attacked the blaze on Thursday.
The prolonged bushfire season is a real concern to Mr Whitten, who's worked as an RFS volunteer for about 45 years.
"Our fire season starts in August and goes through to April, that's really hard on volunteers especially when it's a lot of the same people who come and do the job.
"It gets quite tiring, it just takes their family life."
Firefighters are working to get the blaze under control, before it affects the village of Woolbrook.