By Alana Mazzoni and Brittany Chain For Daily Mail Australia
Published: 07:52 GMT, 23 December 2019 | Updated: 00:51 GMT, 24 December 2019
Eerie photos show the charred remains of the town of Balmoral which burned to the ground last week after firefighters ran out of water, but angry locals have rejected the Premier’s claims the town was ‘wiped off the map’.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that Balmoral – home to about 400 people – was decimated during the fires on Thursday and then again on Saturday. She said ‘there isn’t much left’ of the township.
Balmoral had about 150 homes last week and has since lost about 18 of them to the fires.
The scale of devastation in the New South Wales Southern Highlands town can be seen in harrowing pictures showing a burnt-out car covered in ash, a charred railway line and the rubble of destroyed homes.
Brendon O’Connor, the captain of the Balmoral Rural Fire Brigade, told ABC Radio on Monday the village runs on limited tank water. Crews were trying to fight two separate firefronts with tanks filled with water, but they were quickly drained due to the enormity of the blaze.
‘It was terrible. We had eight fire appliances dealing with the fire storm and no water left. The tanks and town had been drained. We had to wait for another tank to make it in and restock us,’ Mr O’Connor said.
But by that point, the unpredictable winds had picked up on both sides of the village and the volunteers were flanked by flames.
‘We’re only a small rural community,’ Mr O’Connor said. ‘Well over 90% of the bushland in the village area is gone.’
The scenes of devastation come as Australia’s embattled Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the rounds on several Australian television networks on Monday morning in the aftermath of his much-criticized family vacation to Hawaii during the wildfires crisis.
Locals from Balmoral set up a sign in response to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s comments that their small village had been totally destroyed by wildfires
Eerie photos show the charred remains of Balmoral, in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. This car was one of dozens lost in the blaze
Crews from the Balmoral Rural Fire Brigade were trying to fight two separate firefronts with tanks filled with water, but they were quickly drained due to the enormity of the blaze. (Above, the scene of devastation)
Balmoral is the northernmost village in Wingecarribee Shire. Here, charred trees can be seen along the length of the railway
A house is seen barely standing after the catastrophic bushfires that swept through the tiny town of Balmoral
The small town of just 400 people was decimated during the fires last Thursday and then again on Saturday
This map shows the extent of wildfires raging across the country. More than 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has burned nationwide during a torrid past few months, with more than 1,100 homes destroyed. (Graphic data above, from My Firewatch)
He eventually cut short his holiday and returned to Sydney over the weekend before visiting evacuation and emergency control centers and the families of two firefighters killed battling blazes last Thursday southwest of Sydney.
‘We all make decisions. You do as a parent, I do as a parent. We’ll seek to balance our work life responsibilities and we all try to get that right,’ Morrison told Channel Seven.
One of the volunteers who was working to save a home watched his own further down the street go up in flames.
‘He was saving another home and he watched his own burn down,’ the fire captain said. Mr O’Connor’s own home was also damaged in the fires.
The town is currently without power but most people chose to evacuate anyway. They’re hoping to be let back in at some point on Monday to properly assess the damage.
Mr O’Connor said in his 20 years of experience fighting fires he’d never seen conditions so catastrophic.
The town (above, before the fires) is currently without power but most people chose to evacuate anyway. They’re hoping to be let back in at some point on Monday to properly assess the damage
The remains of homes appear post-apocalyptic after fire tore through the small town late last week
A charred Buddha statue is one of the only items left standing at a home in Balmoral
One Twitter user posted this map showing ‘the only two routes out of Sydney as all the others are blocked’. Almost 800 homes have burned in NSW, which last week was paralyzed by a seven-day state of emergency amid catastrophic conditions
‘From the 2001 bushfires which also came through Balmoral, to Black Saturday and the Canberra fires, I’ve been to most of the big ones,’ he said.
‘They were all devastating, but I’ve never experienced fire activity like this.’
Another of the volunteers who risked his life battling the blaze said he found comments made by Ms Berejiklian offensive during an interview with 2GB radio.
Ms Berejiklian previously said ‘there isn’t much left’ of the township of Balmoral after the fire razed much of it to the ground.
The volunteer, known only as Greg, said Balmoral ‘has not been wiped off the map’.
An aerial view of Balmoral, which had about 150 homes last week and has since lost about 18 of them to the fires
Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews work on a blaze threatening homes along the Old Hume Highway on Thursday December 19
Burnt-out property is seen following the Green Wattle Creek Fire at Buxton on Friday
A house and car damaged by recent catastrophic bushfires in the Southern Highlands village of Balmoral
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian speak to the media during a visit to the Wollondilly Emergency Control Centre in Sydney, Sunday, December 22
‘It was horrific… It is not almost gone. It is all still there.
‘The suggestion that we failed in defending that village… I don’t know how the other guys [in the fire crew] take that, but me personally, I’m quite offended at the suggestion that we lost that village because we didn’t,’ he said.
A photographer who was on the scene of a fire in Bilpin, NSW, on Saturday night told Daily Mail Australia more than 40,000 litres of water was required to save just one home.
Volunteer firefighter and home owner, Mark Jol chose not to evacuate his home in Bilpin as fast-moving fires approached this weekend.
He and his son Andrew – who is also a volunteer RFS member – were well prepared to battle the blaze.
They used 40,000 litres of water to save their property alone – offering a stark reminder about just how much water firefighters need to fight the blazes.
‘All of that water came from their own tanks,’ the photographer said. ‘They were well prepared, but all that water was used just on the initial fire front which passed through.
‘They had sprinklers fitted and switched on around the house, in the car port… It really was a well prepared home, it was covered in corrugated iron and surrounded by well cleared out space and it survived.’
A bushfire burns on a property in Balmoral, 150 kilometres southwest of Sydney on December 19
A mega-blaze ripped through Bilpin and the Blue Mountains on Saturday night with intense heat and speed
Mr Jol believes another dwelling further down on his land wouldn’t have survived. Conditions were too extreme for him to go properly check it out.
Intense weather conditions on Saturday propelled a mega-blaze covering 460,000 hectares from Gospers Mountain through to the Blue Mountains.
Scott Morrison has defended his government’s climate policy, as authorities warned the wildfires crisis ravaging the country’s most populous state could fester for months.
Around 200 wildfires were burning in four states, with New South Wales accounting for more than half of them, including 60 fires not contained.
The disaster has led to renewed criticism that Morrison’s conservative government has not taken enough action on climate change.
Morrison rejected calls to downsize Australia’s lucrative coal industry. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.
‘I am not going to write off the jobs of thousands of Australians by walking away from traditional industries,’ he told Channel Seven.
Morrison’s coalition government won a surprise third term in May. Among its pledges was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030 – a modest figure compared to the center-left opposition’s pledge of 45%.
Morrison on Monday insisted Australia would meet its emission targets.
‘I’m going to maintain the course of responsible management, responsibly addressing the changes of climate change and responsibly ensuring that we can grow our economy in what is a very tough climate at the moment,’ he said.
Pictures show the devastating conditions firefighters were forced to work in, as a blanket of orange smoke settled on the Blue Mountains and embers flew in every direction
A firefighter and a koala watch on as fire burns through the Lobethal vineyard in the Adelaide Hills
More than 1100 properties have been damaged or destroyed in the ongoing NSW bushfire crisis with fears the tally will soon jump to include another 100 houses.
Damage assessment figures released by the NSW Rural Fire Service on Monday afternoon stated 829 homes have been destroyed by bushfires this season and 333 homes have been damaged.
It is believed a further 100 houses were razed when bushfires tore through NSW under dangerous conditions on Thursday and Saturday last week.
RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said it would be another 24 hours before they had an accurate number of homes destroyed ‘but I think it is fair to say .. it is around 100’.
Areas hit hard by fire include Lithgow and along the Bells Line of Road in the upper Blue Mountains, and the Wollondilly Shire villages of Buxton and Bargo, which were ravaged for the second time in three days.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday said ‘there’s not much left’ in the small town of Balmoral, southwest of Sydney.
Firefighters worked to strengthen containment lines under generally easing conditions on Monday.
An emergency alert was issued for the Comberton fire south of Nowra on Monday afternoon, forcing authorities to shut the Princes Highway between Nowra and Conjola Park.
Mr Rogers on Monday said more than three million hectares have been scorched this bushfire season.
‘It’s an enormous amount of the landscape and forested areas,’ he told reporters in the Blue Mountains.
‘We shouldn’t underestimate just how much of the natural environment is being burnt and that’s got serious ecological impacts as well as the fire impact … I think that will be felt for years to come.’
He said that while Monday was a cool day, the threat had not passed for the Blue Mountains and firefighters would be doing a lot of containment work in coming days.
‘The next few days are going to be very important to try and get (back burns) in place and then hopefully it won’t be so much of a risk as we go into the next batch of warm weather, looking like Sunday-Monday into next week,’ he said
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday visited Mudgee after an aerial tour where he witnessed the ‘absolute incineration of such large tracts of land’.
‘Wherever you are, be reassured that the effort and the coordination is extraordinary,’ Mr Morrison told reporters.
‘The level of detail, whether it’s in the headquarters or whether it’s in the incident response centres like we are here in Mudgee, is extraordinary.’
Illford couple John and Nova Cunningham arrived at the Mudgee Evacuation Centre with their three children on Saturday night.
‘There was a fireball that came through, it was this huge roar and that’s when it just hit everybody and we had to leave,’ Mrs Cunningham said.
‘Our house is okay we think and we’re hoping to hear an update today if we can return, but the wind has changed the fire’s direction so we’re definitely not in the clear yet.’
Earlier on Monday, RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said firefighters would take advantage of more favourable conditions expected to continue until the end of the week.
He said they were ‘absolutely tired’ but doing a remarkable job.
‘Yes they’re fatigued – physically fatigued, emotionally fatigued – but they know their communities are under threat and they’re going to do all they can,’ he told Seven’s Sunrise.
The state’s firefighting ranks were bolstered over the weekend with the arrival of crews from Canada and the United States.
Haunting photos show the charred remains of Balmoral which burned to the ground
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