Houses burn in ghost towns
NSW communities are bracing for news of property damage and loss after another long night for the state's firefighters.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said they were receiving reports of "significant damage and destruction" on Saturday night after more than a dozen blazes reached an emergency warning alert level throughout the day.
He believed property losses could run into the dozens. Two firefighters were injured after suffering smoke inhalation fighting blazes in Milton, the RFS said this morning.
"Some areas alone are reporting at least 15 properties alight in some locations," Mr Fitzsimmons told ABC TV.
RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers later said properties had been reported lost or impacted in the Batlow area south of Tumut, North Nowra and Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands.
"Hopefully in a couple of hours conditions will start to ease but I've got to say there is so much fire out there that I don't think the danger is going to pass for some time.
Another difficult day for communities around NSW. At midnight, with the threat still not over, there are 7 fires at Emergency Warning and 11 at Watch & Act. A state-wide total fire ban remains in place for Sunday, 5 Jan. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/jopBiTrHZT— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 4, 2020
"We have no chance of getting containment on these fires anytime soon.
Surrounded by a mega-blaze that authorities warned couldn't be stopped, Batlow was still battling last night, holding on despite houses lost, choking clouds of smoke and spot fires everywhere.
As fireys feared and had predicted, as many as five fires in the area were last night threatening to merge.
At the northern end of the Kosciuszko National Park, the Dunns Rd, Adaminaby Complex and Green Valley fires were edging closer to the already merged fires at East Ournie Creek and Doubtful Gap Trail.
In the famous apple town of Batlow, fireys scrambled to save homes and put out spot fires as explosions echoed around the evacuated streets.
RFS volunteer James Zimmerman posted videos to Facebook yesterday showing the smoke and flames.
"I've never experienced anything like this," he said.
Batlow normally has 1300 residents but yesterday it was down to a few dozen hardy souls.
At the RSL five gathered to defend their home. "Five generations of my family have lived in this town for 100 years, I'm not going anywhere," Rob Ironside said.
The 51-year-old said the explosions were gas bottles at an old service station, while an abandoned can factory was also on fire.
Mr Ironside said he sent his wife and kids to the nearby township of Tumut two days ago and stayed behind with his 26-year-old son and 81-year-old dad.
"You've just got to have a good plan, be well prepared, and when it all goes pear-shaped have an escape route, which is exactly what we've done," he said.
Frank Thatcher put out a spot fire on his veranda after refusing to abandon his home.
"I've been living here 20-odd years and I've never seen anything like this in my life mate, never," he said.
"I'm a pretty stubborn old prick, I wasn't gonna move."
Janet Kavanagh abandoned her home with her dog for the Batlow Bowling Club with several houses ablaze. "Sadly I had to leave my 48 chickens, they wouldn't fit in the car," she said. "All the fireys have been really nice to me. They haven't said: "You shouldn't be here you silly old bat'."
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said last night authorities were bracing for the loss of dozens of buildings.
"Right across these fire grounds we are increasingly getting reports of significant damage and destruction," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
"Some areas alone are reporting at least 15 properties alight in some locations."
Along the NSW south coast, holiday town streets were almost empty.
Seaside towns from the Victorian border to Nowra had been emptied, although a few determined locals had stayed almost everywhere, despite warnings from the NSW Rural Fire Service.
For most of the day it looked like the area would be saved by the most unlikely of heroes - the smoke.
An inversion layer trapped the smoke close to the ground and kept temperatures in the 20s, rather than the expected 40C.
It was what NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons called "a very dangerous day".
And, as the residents bunkered down and the conditions deteriorated late yesterday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian delivered the sobering message: "We're in for a long night and I make no bones about that."
Bermagui was eerily empty.
Michelle Madelis was worried after leaving her bush home to stay with a friend in town.
"I am in two minds whether to stay or go," she said.
"Am I worried? Shit yeah - our plan is to go to the pond at the golf course if it gets too bad."
It was a similar story in Batemans Bay. Jasmin Brett, 53, decided to leave her house two days ago and has been living out of her car at the beach because she said the evacuation centre was overcrowded.
"I've locked everything up, shut every door in the house and put some photos in the bathtub - what can you do?" she said.
South of Batemans Bay, the Badja Forest Rd fire turned the sky a smoky orange colour as the blaze, which killed three people near Cobargo on Tuesday, extended further east.
Helicopters filled waterbombing buckets from Berrara Creek while canoes lined the bank in case residents needed to escape.
Matt Jansch, 40, jogged up and down Lakeway Ave, dousing homes of neighbours who had evacuated.
His partner Nicole Grady took their four-year-old son Josh to safety. "If I have to bail, I have my canoe at the end of the street and I'll be off," he said.
At 6.45pm a fierce southerly fanned panic. But the fire that ringed the town turned back on itself and did not jump the creek.