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Charred farms, burnt trees but no disaster as planning pays off

Date

Stephanie Anderson

A tanker moves over scorched ground near Mount Forest Road on Tuesday.

A tanker moves over scorched ground near Mount Forest Road on Tuesday. Photo: Jay Cronan

Fire has torn through almost 4000 hectares of land south of Cooma, forcing people out of their homes and reducing properties to blackened earth and bare trees.

As the state faced unprecedented fire weather, crews continued to tackle a bushfire that started close to Mount Forest Road near Carlaminda on Sunday.

By early evening on Tuesday, the blaze had spread through 3800 hectares but firefighters managed to protect all structures except for a small shed.

Residents watch the fire on Mount Forest Road near Cooma.

Residents watch the fire on Mount Forest Road near Cooma. Photo: Jay Cronan

It was a combination of water bombing, ground crews and "a heck of a lot of preparation" that saved the homes, according to Fred Nichols of the Monaro Rural Fire Service.

He said volunteers had been battling deteriorating conditions, worsening from the initial 30-degree heat and 35km/h winds at 7am.

"We're not getting much help from the weather," he said. "It's all a case of we need to get lucky.''

Mr Nichols said crews would be working into the night as the fire moved eastward across the Kybeyan valley, which was primarily grassland, towards tough terrain.

"If it goes through the Kybeyan valley, it will end up in the Bega Valley Shire," he said. "It's very isolated and very hard to do anything with."

More than 50 firefighters were on the ground on Tuesday evening, assisted by four helicopters and three water bombers.

Despite an increasing number of tankers moving to and from the fire ground, Mr Nichols said that fighting the blaze was starting to take its toll on volunteers.

"The crews have been rotating but they're getting worn out," he said. "We've been dragging crews in from wherever we can."

Wind remained one of the major obstacles for crews on the ground, with strong gusts of up to 78km/h driving the fire, which was "spreading by square minutes by the minute" according to one volunteer. Another described driving into the fire ground as being met with ''a wall of smoke''.

Dozens of homes were evacuated throughout the day, although some Mount Forest Road residents chose to stay to protect their homes.

Mr Nichols said staying to protect property was an option only for those who had taken precautions.

"Unless they're really well prepared, homes are undefendable," he said. "We're in extreme to close to catastrophic fire conditions here. Homes are not defendable."

Volunteer Mark Shubert had been on the fire ground since Monday, battling the blaze as it inched closer to his property, Deep Water.

"There's a good chance it will [reach my property] but it will depend on the wind."

Despite owning the property for almost three decades, Mr Shubert said he would stay with the crews rather than leave to protect his property.

"What can you do?'' he said. ''You've got to pitch in.''

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