Man dies as estimated 40 properties lost to bushfires in Snowy Valleys

An estimated 40 properties were destroyed by bushfires that hit the Snowy Valleys hard on Saturday, resulting in the death of a man who was trying to defend a friend's property in Batlow.

The man went to a ute to get water about 6.30pm on Saturday, but didn't return and was found unconscious in the ute. Police said despite the efforts of the man's friend and emergency services, the man died at the scene. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the man had suffered a cardiac arrest.

Some of the wreckage left by bushfires that impacted Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Some of the wreckage left by bushfires that impacted Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The man has been identified as David Harrison, a 47-year-old from Goulburn.

Mr Harrison's brother Peter told the Goulburn Post that David was the youngest of four brothers, who were "always tight".

He said David had kept in contact with his school friend Geoff Purcell and had been helping Mr Purcell defend his Batlow property from fire.

"It leaves a massive hole," Peter Harrison said of his brother's death.

"He was a very smart guy. He had big blue eyes, a big smile and all the girls loved him."

Batlow suffered about half of the estimated property losses in the Snowy Valleys on Saturday.

Authorities expect the property toll will rise as they begin counting the cost of the Dunns Road and East Ournie Creek fires, which were starting to merge with two other blazes on Saturday evening.

Conditions eased on Sunday, and the Dunns Road and East Ournie Creek fires were downgraded from emergency level to watch and act after a southerly change.

Rural Fire Service Superintendent Roger Orr, incident controller for the Snowy Valleys area, speaks to media on Sunday in Tumut. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Rural Fire Service Superintendent Roger Orr, incident controller for the Snowy Valleys area, speaks to media on Sunday in Tumut. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Rural Fire Service incident controller Superintendent Roger Orr said firefighters were out on Sunday assessing damage in the Snowy Valleys and trying to ascertain the extent of losses.

"We're slowly getting reports in from the fire ground regarding damage, where the fire is, where the roads are that we need to work on to get open, and the electricity assets which are obviously important," he said shortly before 3pm on Sunday.

"We're looking at roughly 40 [properties lost in the Snowy Valleys] at the moment; 20 possibly in Batlow.

"However, we are expecting that number to rise significantly as reports come in."

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Some of the properties razed by the fire in Batlow are homes, but others known to have been destroyed include the service station, old hospital building and old cannery.

Most buildings remained standing in Batlow after the fire moved through - a remarkable outcome given the Rural Fire Service was describing the town of about 1300 as "not defendable" in the lead-up to the fire, during which time all but about 50 residents evacuated.

Superintendent Orr said the Snowy Valleys areas with property losses included "Batlow, Cabramurra, Tumbarumba and all points in between".

He said firefighters would spend the next few days consolidating and strengthening containment lines, before "a few challenging days" later in the week, and an expected rise in temperatures again next weekend.

About 400 firefighters were on the ground in the area on Sunday, and Superintendent Orr was hopeful of containing the Dunns Road fire within three weeks.

He praised the work volunteer and paid firefighters did on Saturday, saying: "How amazing are they?"

A member of one of several "strike teams" that came from elsewhere to fight the flames in Batlow alongside the locals was Johnathan Nathundriwa, from Euston in Victoria.

Johnathan Nathundriwa, a volunteer firefighter from Victoria who fought his first bushfire at Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Johnathan Nathundriwa, a volunteer firefighter from Victoria who fought his first bushfire at Batlow on Saturday. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Remarkably, the blaze that many experienced firefighters have described as the worst they have seen was the first Mr Nathundriwa has fought.

He said his unit worked from about 7am on Saturday until 2am on Sunday.

"I thought we were just going to be part of some backburning stuff and I thought, 'I'll just stay in the background and just do as I'm told'," he said.

"Next thing you know it's like, 'Ooh, I think we better hook in, fellas. Gloves on, let's go'.

"Quite a few houses, you had to go back again and put out the fires [when they reignited]. It's rewarding to come back and say, 'Yes, that one's still there. You beauty!"

This story Man dies as estimated 40 properties lost in Snowy Valleys first appeared on The Canberra Times.