‘It would be a dead man zone’: Batlow residents had to go says RFS

The Rural Fire Service had no choice but to tell people to leave Batlow and Wondalga this afternoon, RFS Public Liaison Officer Brad Stewart said.

“The level of risk is so high,” he said.

Saturday’s conditions will provide massive challenges to fire crews and threat to properties.

“The weather on Saturday is likely to produce fire behaviour like that we saw early in the week, when the fire travelled 100km in one night,” Mr Stewart said.

“It will be like the fire behaviour on the South Coast, and the same sort of risk.

“We don’t want people remaining in the town, because it could very well cost someone or more than one person their lives.”

Fire crews were hard at work cutting control lines with heavy equipment yesterday, and the likelihood of some backburning in the night.

“We’ve got lots of firefighters on the front, but it is 300 kilometres around, so there is only so much that can be done. We haven’t been able to put any aircraft in the air because of the smoke.”

The smoke had nonetheless helped to suppress the fire, and unlike yesterday, didn’t lift in the afternoon – a situation that caused a rise in fire activity Wednesday.

At 7pm yesterday, the fire remained west of the Old Tumbarumba Road, and Mr Stewart believes that there is only so much fire crews can do to stop it, particularly on Saturday.

“We have a number of assets up there including bulldozers, but with the forecast for Saturday, you cannot actively fight a fire like that, it’s not safe,” he said.

“It would be a dead man zone, even for those guys.

“We don’t want firefighters in the path of it, or members of the Batlow community.

“With the predicted winds, the flank of the fire would become the head of the fire, and we don’t want anyone in harm’s way.”

Mr Stewart said the community should expect a long haul.

 “The landscape is so dry,” he said. “The reality is these fires are so big, and only likely to get bigger. They’ll need 200-300mm of rain to put them out.

As to the risk to Tumut, Mr Stewart said: “Tumut is in front of the fire, so there’s some risk, but not as great as communities at Batlow, Adelong and Tumbarumba.

He said there was a risk to Talbingo as well, where fire burns to the west at Buddong, but said the open spaces of the town meant Talbingo was a defendable community,

There will be community meetings at the Tumut Boys Club Hall at 10.30am and the Talbingo Country Club at 1pm.