Goulburn man David Harrison has been hailed a “hero” after he died helping his friend Geoff defend his property against the catastrophic blaze that overran Batlow yesterday.
Residents returned to the fire-ravaged town to grim scenes today, the charred Big Apple on the way into the historic town symbolic of the devastation unleashed by yesterday’s catastrophic blaze.
Dead wildlife and livestock lie strewn along the roads – a number of which remain closed – and farmers have begun the harrowing task of loading the carcasses into their utes.
Around 20 homes and businesses are believed to have been destroyed in the small south west slopes community of just over 1000 people.
The relatives of Mr Harrison were in shock today, reeling at the news that the 47-year-old was overcome by smoke and died of a heart attack while fighting a fire on a friend’s property.
He had driven to Batlow from his home in Goulburn to visit his friend Geoff and determined to stay and help him fight the fire, despite calls to evacuate the town.
His brother Peter told 9News he had pleaded with him to get to safety, but Mr Harrison was determined to stay and help.
“He didn’t want to leave Geoff on his own. He was just that sort of guy. He would help anyone at the drop of a hat – he would drive hours to help you,” Peter Harrison said.
“They had a plan to get out, but I just think he was overcome by the heat, the smoke, the exhaustion, running around putting out spot fires everywhere.”
The pair had drained the tank of the back of their ute and when Mr Harrison drove the ute to refill it, he was overcome by smoke.
Many of the town’s famous apple orchards have been lost and power remains out to the region, with Essential Energy warning it may be days before transmission lines can be repaired and power restored.
But community spirit remains strong, and residents are thankful for those who stayed to face flames the like of which veteran firefighters had not seen before.
The town was evacuated last week, firefighters warning the town could not be defended if the Dunns Road fire spread as predicted amid yesterday’s extreme fire conditions.
But some residents stayed with fire crews to battle the Dunns Road blaze, which is over 230,000 hectares in size.
Yesterday’s strong southerly sent the mammoth blaze directly into the town.
Jay Tremlow said he believes no houses have been lost inside Batlow’s town centre – but other buildings and businesses as well as homes outside are believed to have gone.
“We worked our way up, putting out garages, fences, houses, whatever was on fire,” Mr Tremlow said.
“A phenomenal effort. It was fight or flight for sure, we didn’t really have time to think.”
NSW Rural Fire Service Superintendent Roger Orr said it was a credit to those who stayed that more homes were not lost.
“It is a sad story for those who have lost their homes, obviously, but the conditions yesterday were just horrific and the expectation is that we were going to lose many more homes than what we have,” he told 9NEWS.
The town’s pub was among the buildings that survived after its staff stayed to defend the historic structure and any surrounding property they could reach.
Owner Matt Rudd described to 9News how they sprayed down the pub and surrounding areas, putting out spot fires as fast as they could.
“We went and checked the neighbour’s and it was on fire again, went to turn the hose on and there was nothing there,” Mr Rudd said.
With residents still reeling and a town covered in ash, Mr Rudd understands the importance of saving the town’s drinking hole.
“Getting blokes together and sitting them down, share their experiences and make their stories normal to them,” he said.