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Dunns Road fire: a charred and devastated Batlow begins counting losses

Devastation is everywhere on the journey into the small Snowy Valleys town of Batlow, where a man died while trying to defend a friend's property and an estimated 20 properties, including homes, were destroyed by bushfires on Saturday.

The aftermath of the Dunns Road fire that impacted Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The aftermath of the Dunns Road fire that impacted Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Despite these significant losses, there is also a sense of relief for many given the Rural Fire Service had expected much worse, describing the town as "not defendable" ahead of the fire arriving.

In some of the hardest hit areas, the ground is charred black. Fallen trees cover parts of the road and masses of livestock lie dead. In one paddock, a lone sheep that survived the blaze wandered around continuously in a circle.

On the outskirts, some of the town's famous apple orchards appear to have fared reasonably well, while others have sustained significant damage.

Gutted houses can be seen from the road. Some have also been burnt to the ground in the town itself. In the remains of one, beside a petrol station that was also destroyed by the fire, you can only make out a few items, including the television.

Less than 100 metres from the petrol station, the Batlow Hotel, which stayed open for its one remaining customer on Saturday night, has survived, along with the main street.

Most houses in Batlow remain standing, which is remarkable given the warning that the town was "not defendable".

Warning: the gallery below has graphic images.

Other buildings, including the old hospital and the old cannery, went up in flames.

Batlow, which all but about 50 of the 1300 or so residents evacuated ahead of the fire hitting, was eerily quiet on Sunday morning.

Residents who remained were left to reflect on what they had seen the previous day.

Batlow resident Steve Horsley stayed to fight the Dunns Road fire on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Batlow resident Steve Horsley stayed to fight the Dunns Road fire on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Steve Horsley's front yard was charred black in a small area, but flames had otherwise not reached his home.

The man who acted as incident controller during significant fires at Kosciuszko in 2003 said it had been "a pretty hectic afternoon" on Saturday as he worked with Rural Fire Service and National Parks and Wildlife firefighters.

"I was lucky," Mr Horsley said.

"I've got another property about 7km out of Batlow as well. The house is still there and the big machinery shed survived. I've got to go out there and feed my stock. I've also got two big sheds full of hay there, and they survived too."

Mr Horsley said he was worried, though, about another of his properties about 90 kilometres from Batlow on the other side of Tumbarumba. He was going to try and get there to survey the damage, but didn't think he'd be able to because of road closures.

"It's not a real good feeling, going to your property after the fires and not knowing what you're going to find," he said.

"For this area, I haven't seen anything like this with the fires and the intensity. It's just so dry. The drought's taken its toll."

Mr Horsley's neighbour Rod Peel sat outside his home on Sunday morning with fellow locals Tom Clark and Danny Matthews. They all fought the fires on Saturday.

"They were saying [Batlow] was undefendable," Mr Matthews said on Sunday morning.

"You couldn't be prouder of everyone who [fought the fires] in Batlow last night."

Mr Clark added: "The amount of people that banded together was unbelievable.

"It's a nice feeling to come back to your house and see that someone's saved it while you were off defending someone else's place."

Mr Peel said he had lived in Batlow his whole life and fought significant fires elsewhere, "but we've never seen anything like this here".

"This is the biggest thing we've ever had here," he said.

With no power in the town and the water supply also affected, Mr Peel headed for his backyard to cook some bacon and eggs on the barbecue, offering some to Mr Horsley as he went.

The Batlow Hotel has remained open throughout the fire, and is now being powered by generators after the electricity was cut.

Batlow Hotel owner Matthew Rudd, stayed in Batlow as the Dunns Road fire impacted the town on Saturday. Inset: Mr Rudd and local man Wayne Cullen at the pub the night before. Pictures: Dion Georgopoulos, Matthew Rudd

Batlow Hotel owner Matthew Rudd, stayed in Batlow as the Dunns Road fire impacted the town on Saturday. Inset: Mr Rudd and local man Wayne Cullen at the pub the night before. Pictures: Dion Georgopoulos, Matthew Rudd

Owner Matthew Rudd said he had gone out to help fight a fire when he heard a series of explosions coming from the now-destroyed service station about 6.45pm on Saturday.

He said he had a UHF radio on throughout and firefighters had done "a fantastic job".

"They just couldn't get to everywhere," Mr Rudd said.

His pub remains open for anyone who wants to come in for a meal, a drink or just a chat.

A house beside Batlow's service station goes up in flames on Saturday. Both were destroyed. Picture: Matthew Rudd

A house beside Batlow's service station goes up in flames on Saturday. Both were destroyed. Picture: Matthew Rudd

He said as a former police officer, he knew the importance of being able to share experiences with others who had gone through the same major event.

"There's nothing worse than going home and stewing," Mr Rudd said.

"If I can provide a place for people to come and talk and get their feelings and emotions out, that's fantastic."

He expected Batlow to struggle for some time, with the town's two major industries - forestry and fruit - hit hard by the fire.

A grass fire burns in Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Matthew Rudd

A grass fire burns in Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Matthew Rudd

Rural Fire Service incident controller Superintendent Roger Orr said of the estimated 40 properties destroyed on Saturday in the Snowy Valleys region, about half were in Batlow.

Locals expressed sadness after hearing of the death of a 47-year-old man, who died while helping defend a friend's rural property on Batlow Road.

About 6.30pm on Saturday, the man went to a nearby ute to get water, but didn't return and was found unconscious in the ute. Despite the efforts of the man's friend and emergency services, the man died at the scene.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told media the man had suffered a cardiac arrest.

Brad Harvey, and his brother Trent Harvey, were checking on their father's property in Batlow. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Brad Harvey, and his brother Trent Harvey, were checking on their father's property in Batlow. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

But many told stories of escaping the worst of the blaze.

Brad Harvey was able to get into Batlow from Tumut about 5.30am on Sunday to check on his father's property.

"We lost a bit of country and a bit of orchard, but it could have been worse," Mr Harvey said.

He and his brother Trent were heading to check on a friend's farm on Sunday afternoon.

This story Charred and devastated: Batlow begins counting losses from Dunns Road fire first appeared on The Canberra Times.