'Not Much Left' Of Town Devastated In NSW Bushfires
The small town of Balmoral has been devastated by bushfire, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying "there isn't much left" after a blaze swept through the area.
Balmoral, south-west of Sydney in the state's southern highlands, has bore the brunt of the huge Green Wattle Creek fire in recent days. Nearly 200,000 hectares has been burned in and around the Kanangra-Boyd national park, on the outskirts of the southern highlands.
On Sunday, Berejiklian delivered a distressing update that Balmoral had been torched by fire.
"We have got the devastating news that there's not much left in fact of the town of Balmoral," she said at a press conference near Picton.
"The devastation is shocking."
10 News First's Lia Harris was on the ground in Balmoral on Sunday, capturing some heartbreaking images of burnt-out homes with Christmas decorations still hanging from gates.
It is unclear exactly how many properties have been affected by fire, with fire authorities still on the ground assessing damage. Many residents were forced to flee from their homes, and are sheltering in evacuation centres.
Two firefighters died last week after a crash at neighbouring Buxton, as they battled the Green Wattle Creek fire. It's feared 40 homes have been lost in the bushfire that tore through Buxton, Balmoral, Bargo and surrounding areas.
"It's devastating not knowing whether your property is standing or not. Unfortunately, we have received bad news. There isn't much left," Berejiklian said on Sunday, at a press conference alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison, recently returned from his Hawaii holiday.
"I understand expert teams are going in on the ground in a lot of those communities today, to make full assessments and to let people know when it is safe to go back. Even if people have lost their properties, they still want to go back to see what's left and if there is anything they can salvage."
"We know that's part of the recovery. We want people to have access to their land, to their property, as soon as they can, but it has to be safe."
The premier said some residents would be allowed to return to their properties "today or tomorrow" but others could have to wait longer.
Fire and Rescue NSW duty commander Inspector Kernin Lambert said the Green Wattle Creek fire was deadly on Thursday.
"Around the Balmoral village, we had two fire fronts come together and they merged," he told ABC TV at the time.
"We were experiencing firestorm-type conditions."
The federal and state governments have extended emergency relief funding to Wollondilly and Wingecarribee council areas.
A dozen councils areas across NSW now have access to more than $60 million in joint funding, Berejiklian said on Sunday. Recovery grants of up to $15,000 will be available for farmers and small businesses.
"We're not just here today and tomorrow. We'll be with you in the weeks and months and - in some communities - years during the rebuilding process," she said.
In some more encouraging news at Dargan, near Lithgow, an elderly man previously feared missing -- after staying to defend his home from fires, instead of evacuating -- was found safe and well.
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons earlier said "dozens" of homes may have been lost when bushfires raged across NSW on Saturday.
Most of the losses were from the Green Wattle Creek fire, the huge Gospers Mountain blaze northwest of Sydney and the Currowan bushfire on the South Coast.
"We are expecting another heavy toll unfortunately with estimates that property loss could be in the dozens of buildings including homes, outbuildings, sheds and businesses," Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney.
Volunteer RFS firefighters Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, died later on Thursday night when a tree fell into the path of their tanker in neighbouring Buxton.
Firefighters are now turning their attention to fires in the Shoalhaven region, with fears of ember attacks flying ahead of the main fire front.