‘I didn’t even get my husband’s ashes out’
Families who fled Balmoral after watching their homes burn to the ground returned to survey the smouldering remains of their properties today as they contemplated how they will spend Christmas.
Helena and Justin Cam, who lost their home of 20 years, have vowed spend Christmas together.
"When you have absolutely nothing you realise how important it is to have each other," Ms Cam said. "We have been invited to have Christmas with friends but I think this year we will just have it together."
The family lost their home in the Green Wattle Creek fire on Saturday. They were prepared to fight the fire as it tore down the valley next to their property until the wind hit them from all fronts.
"It was coming from this side and we were defending it," Mr Cam said.
"And then it came from the other side and we couldn't defend it on all fronts."
Their son Gabriel, 16, who had returned home for Christmas break from Cranbrook School, said the winds came from three directions at once/
"There was a vortex being created, flames 40m up, it was a literal hellscape," he said.
"We had the car running before the fire hit, as soon as we knew we had lost the house.
"As soon as it got into the rafters we had to go."
The family drove away watching their house burn down.
Neighbour Rosemary Doyle broke down in tears looking at her flattened two-storey home.
When the fire hit the mother of two was sheltering at Balmoral Rural Fire Station with the brigade.
The shed was under attack, with an external sprinkler systems dousing the building until a helicopter bombed the area with water.
When it was safe to leave the shed Mrs Doyle saw that her home of 13 years was on fire.
"I just watched it burn," she said. "It was the most traumatic thing I have ever been through."
"I didn't even get my husband John's ashes and he only died two years ago."
The community met again on Monday at the fire station but this time the danger had passed.
"No Gladys we haven't been destroyed" a crudely written sign at the entrance to the town reads.
Resident of 26 years Colin Ripper wrote the sign Monday morning after hearing Premier Gladys Berejiklian say there was not much left of the town.
"I am not religious but what happened here was a bloody miracle," he said.
The plumber stayed on Saturday to protect his property from the inferno, as it tore up the side of the street. With tears in his eyes, the father-of-two said he went inside, grabbed a saturated blanket and was prepared to shelter himself in the bath.
But when the fire hit a track on the edge of his house it did not jump the fire trail - a trail he and his neighbour made in the morning with a bobcat.
The NSW Rural Fire Service is still determining the damage from bushfires that tore through NSW over the weekend but it's believed another 100 homes could have been lost.
The property toll is yet to be finalised with crews today still going through areas affected by the blazes, while firefighters work to take advantage of more favourable weather while it lasts.
RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said it would be another 24 hours before they had an accurate number of homes destroyed "but I think it is fair to say. it is around 100".
Areas hit hard by fire include Lithgow and along the Bells Line of Road in the upper Blue Mountains, and the Wollondilly Shire villages of Buxton and Bargo, which were ravaged for the second time in three days. Balmoral was all but wiped out.
Mr Rogers said more than three million hectares has burnt this bushfire season.
"We shouldn't underestimate just how much of the natural environment is being burnt and that's got serious ecological impacts as well as the fire impact … I think that will be felt for years to come," Mr Rogers said.
While Monday was a cool day, the threat had not passed for the Blue Mountains and firefighters would be doing a lot of containment work in coming days.
"The next few days are going to be very important to try and get (back burns) in place and then hopefully it won't be so much of a risk as we go into the next batch of warm weather, looking like Sunday-Monday into next week," he said