| 15.02,19. 03:37 PM |
Tingha and Tabulam residents in shock after bushfires destroy 20 homes across NSW
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has upgraded an out of control bushfire west of Tabulam in the state's north to emergency warning level as properties come under threat.
There has been an increase in fire activity on the western side of the fireground, with RFS issuing the upgrading the warning about 9am this morning.
As of 2.30pm, the emergency warning was still active in the area, with the fire area estimated at more than 4000 hectares.
"Firefighters are in position to protect properties and will be assisted by aircraft," the RFS said in its advice to residents.
Firefighters said it was too late to leave for those in the area of the Bruxner Highway, Old Bruxner Highway and Sugarbag Road and they should shelter.
It was also too late to leave for residents of Leslie Creek Road, O'Driscoll Road and Fairfield Road.
The RFS sent an emergency text message to affected residents.
Spokesman James Morris advised residents sheltering in homes to fill baths and sinks with water, before sheltering in a safe part of the home.
"Make sure doors and windows are closed, your air-conditioning is turned off, and settle as that fire passes," he said.
"Once it's safe to do so make your way outside and extinguish any remaining spot fires."
The RFS said more firefighters were being deployed to the area as two air tankers worked to control the fire.
Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant arrived at the scene on Friday afternoon.
He said the conditions were "challenging" for firefighters
"And they're going to be challenging for weeks," he said.
A Tabulam woman has been charged with starting the blaze, after leaving burning rubbish unattended on her property during a total fire ban.
The fire is one of three blazes that have destroyed 20 homes and damaged a number of others in northern NSW since Wednesday.
Other properties were burned in Tingha and Wallangarra.
Residents confront damage
The new emergency warning for Tabulam was issued as residents returned to assess damage in areas already burned.
Among them was Ron Heperi, who lost his home of 32 years.
"[These bushfires] are becoming standard," he said, fighting back the tears.
It is the first time Mr Heperi has been back since fleeing the Tabulam property on Wednesday, as a large bushfire whipped up "like a mini cyclone", forming a nine-kilometre fire front.
"When this came through there was little [firefighters] could do," he said.
"It was just like a wave of fire — it's absolutely amazing."
After the fire ripped through Tabulam, Jill Adam was so desperate to find out the fate of her cattle that she walked across a river and through paddocks to avoid road blocks.
One cow and calf had perished in the blaze.
"The others managed to escape because a neighbour opened gates before he ran for his life," she said.
"They're very hungry now and they're all covered in smoke and dust and grey and look horrible, but they're a lovely lot of cattle."
"We walked back home in the dark which was very traumatic [with] fire all around us and trees going off … and people's cows were running and horses were running up and down the roads and the paddocks frantically.
"Everything was in shock, including us."
'We've lost everything'
Further south in Tingha, Todd Cross stood among piles of blackened, hollowed-out cars that formed part of his father's 25-year-old car wrecking and scrap metal business.
"Fire just sort of raged through," he said.
"We've lost everything … as you can probably see."
Roads blocks meant he had been unable to help his parents defend the property as the blaze took hold.
"Dad and one of his mates tried to put the fires out — it obviously didn't have much of an effect, it was just too powerful," he said.
"I don't know what sort of price you could put on what he's lost — I mean he's lost everything in the house as well, which is all our memories.
"Me and dad just sort of sat and cried for a while — no words really."
Not far from the twisted metal remains of Mr Heperi's home is the skeleton of an XT-250 Yamaha trail bike he had painstakingly restored.
Inexplicably, a large "crystal rock" garden ornament has been spared from the flames.
"Look of the size of that there, and it didn't get touched," he laughed.
When it was pointed out he was in good spirits for a bloke who had just about lost everything, he stopped laughing.
"Mate, after you've finished crying, that's what happens," he said.