Alongside the uniformed firefighters last year, individual farmers and property owners banded together to save each other’s homes as crews were stretched to breaking point across the Dunns Road fire ground.
With a perimeter eventually measuring over 1000 km, the NSW Rural Fire Service had been clear in community meetings – anyone who wasn’t fully prepared and able to fight the fire should leave.
Those who were staying to fight might – or might not – have help.
Peter Amadio, Dominic Darmody, Paul Vercoe and David Wagg saddled up, unofficially joining the slip-on brigade to defend ‘Montello’ on Old Tumbarumba Road. The four men had no fire fighting experience and no protective gear, but the family home was under threat.
Belonging to Peter and Heather Amadio, Montello was first hit on Friday, January 3, as Batlow prepared for the horrors to come on January 4.
The informal crew had nothing but a single slip-on, garden gloves and disposable cloth face masks – better suited for fighting the coronavirus pandemic than a fire.
Bella Darmody, daughter of Peter and Heather, described how proud she felt of her parents, uncle Peter, cousin David and husband Dominic.
“They worked since New Years Eve – after mum, Mia and I were evacuated on the Monday night – cleaning the property up, raking leaves from underneath the pine trees, cutting trees down too close to the house, moving machinery near to the house,” she remembered.
The Amadios had lived at Montello for more than 40 years, but said the Dunns Road fire was unlike anything they ever expected to see.
“They had been complaining to the Snowy Valleys Council for quite some time about the state of the side roads – trees and vegetation, but Old Tumba Road was designated a protective environmental area, so nothing could be touched – now there is nothing left,” said Mrs Darmody.
“There were so many fallen trees over the road that fire trucks couldn’t get in to help and people couldn’t get out.”
The property was saved on January 3, then hit again on January 4 as Batlow came under attack.
The men and the home survived, but Mrs Darmody is adamant there needs to be changes to prevent a recurrence. A full year later, the roadside trees are still a major concern for the Old Tumbarumba Road property owners.
“Residents should be able to clear and manage their nature strips and the council should clear the sides of the roads better and remove more trees,” she said.
“The burnt trees along the side of the roads may look still alive with the green shoots, but they are dead, randomly falling with winds and when it’s deadly still.
“Mum and I were standing in our driveway and we heard this almighty crash behind us and a burnt tree limb just fell and there was not a breath of wind. Lucky it wasn’t on a car driving past or someone walking along the road.”
Mrs Darmody is hoping that the fires and the efforts of formal and informal fire fighters will prompt a change to future management.