Dunns Road bushfire: Laurel Hill evacuees describe 'total devastation' as bushfire destroys homes

AS ANDREW Wilesmith, of Laurel Hill, drove through the bushfire grounds he saw nothing but "total devastation".

Firefighters battled through erratic conditions on Tuesday as the Dunns Road bushfire tore through pine plantations, farmland and properties. Despite yesterday's more favourable weather bringing some relief, extreme conditions are set to return in the coming days.

Mr Wilesmith is one of the evacuees staying at Adelong. But, he was originally in Albury when he caught wind of the news that a bushfire could threaten his family living at Tumbarumba and Laurel Hill.

So without a second thought he got in the car and drove towards his family who were about to evacuate Laurel Hill.

"It was very intense waitingfor the call [that they got to Adelong]," he said.

"Driving through that area and knowing they got out of there was a sigh of relief because if they didn't evacuate when they did I would have been organising funerals."

As he passed through Tumbarumba to Laurel Hill and on to Batlow, he said the ground was black and burnt, homes were destroyed and pine trees were still on fire while others were just charcoal.

It was just like the devil came out and ripped into everyone.

Andrew Wilesmith

His two sons, who are firefighters, are battling the out-of-control bushfire that was at a 'watch and act' status as of 6pm on Wednesday.

"Knowing what it's like to be a firefighter, it's rewarding to have two sons who are firefighters. They want to help people in the time of need," he said.

"As a father, it is very worrying and concerning, but I hope they are safe."

Mr Wilesmith and father Geoff, as well as his stepmother, made it safely to Adelong, where they are waiting at the evacuation centre for the all-clear from emergency services.

He said there was "a sense of desperation" in the community because most people just want to go back home and check if their animals are safe.

"It is really tense and everyone is nervous, but obviously for safety reasons they can't go back until the RFS give us the OK," he said. "I am trying to build them up, but also keep the reality of it as simple and straightforward as possible."

His father Geoff Wilesmith said it was "the worst devastation" he has seen in the area during his 35 years living at Laurel Hill.

The bushfire caught him off-guard because he said the fire went around Laurel Hill on its way to Tumbarumba before pushing back into their direction.

"By the time we made it to Batlow the roads were about to close, so we were lucky to get out," he said.

Before evacuating to safety, Mr Wilesmith said they did everything they could to save their home, which as far as he knows is still standing. However, he said he could not be certain until the fire authorities reopened the roads. "We were upset, but there was nothing we could do. If you got to go, then you got to go," he said.

For Mathew Frank, however, he is certain his family home at Laurel Hill was destroyed by the bushfire and with it most of their possessions.

"It was getting toey for getting out in time. We left the sprinkler on the chalet because it was all we can do," he said.

He was monitoring the Fires Near Me app the night before the fire struck.

I thought it would be fine, went to bed and ... few hours later it was practically on our doorstep already.

Mathew Frank

"[Evacuating] was a horrible, but the higher stress levels were the night before when we were throwing everything into the cars in a hurry so that we were ready to evacuate properly," he said. As he waits to assess the damage, Mr Frank said he cannot help but think about what his family should have packed before leaving for Adelong.

"My dad, Peter, is an artist, which supported us growing up. We had a heap of artwork in the chalet, which is completely irreplaceable," he said.

Riverina Highlands RFS public liaison officer Peter Jones said crews spent yesterday creating and strengthening containment lines ahead of worsening conditions for Saturday.

"There will be warm days on Friday, but Saturday is not looking good. We are going to see similar conditions to Tuesday," he said. "In reality, there's not much more people can do other than remain vigilant and prepare properties if they haven't done so already."

Fears the iconic Sugar Pine Walk was damaged by the fires were high yesterday but Mr Jones said he was not sure on its status.

This story Laurel Hill evacuees describe 'total devastation' of Dunns Road fire first appeared on The Daily Advertiser.