Five more dead in bushfires as dangerous conditions forecast
Five people have been confirmed dead, one remains missing as fire authorities brace for potentially hundreds of home losses and the return of dangerous conditions within days.
Police have today confirmed a fourth life has been claimed by bushfires on the south coast of NSW, with a man's body found in a burnt out car on a firetrail a few kilometres off from the highway at Yatte Yattah near Lake Conjola on the south coast.
A fifth man has been confirmed dead in Victoria's fire ravaged East Gippsland region.
Police said identifying the victim will take some time due to the condition of the body and the vehicle were in after being caught in a firestorm.
Two of the men killed in the bushfires, who both with babies due, were Samuel McPaul, 28, a RFS volunteer killed by a fire tornado, and Patrick Salway, 29, who died alongside his father Robert, 63, trying to protect the family dairy farm in the Bega Valley town of Cobargo.
Meanwhile, a 72-year-old off-duty firefighter remains unaccounted for at Belowra, about 50km north west of Cobargo.
The four people who died since Monday evening has taken the number of deaths this bushfire season to 12.
Fire conditions eased on Wednesday after a cool change, bringing gusts of up to 80km/h and dry lightning strikes, crossed the state.
But more than 110 fires continue to burn across NSW on New Year's Day and losses from Tuesday's fires are likely to be widespread.
A navy helicopter has flown three people suffering burns from the tiny south coast hamlet of Tinpot this morning.
The civilians were taken to Moruya and the condition is unknown.
Paramedics have managed to get through to another two people suffering burns in Coolagolite, between Bermagui and Cobargo. They are being rushed by road ambulance with an RFS escort.
This comes as residents cried as they returned to their homes in Cobargo to find houses and properties completely destroyed.
Dangerous conditions have resulted in significant property loss. Danger for many with conditions set to deteriorate Saturday. BIA teams are working through areas incl Sth Coast, assessing damage. This season 916 homes destroyed, more than 16,000 buildings saved. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/Ds4ikp0vPf— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 31, 2019
Property owner Ange Kane said the town could rebuild all of that but could never replace father Robert Salway and his son Patrick who died in the fire.
"They were good people, good people who did lots for the community," she told The Daily Telegraph.
"Cobargo can be replaced but we can't replace those amazing two men that we lost.
"They were amazing two people, lovely two people, great friends and as this unravels we will learn a lot more about those two."
The Salway family has been in Cobargo for generations with a street named after them.
Ms Kane said there were injured animals that need first aid.
"I'll sort them out but I think some will need the shotgun," she said.
Resident Shona Taranto returned to the town and was in tears as she saw her shop flattened.
She had been running The Dispensary neuropathy and health advice shop for four and a half years with Jason Symington.
They also run a salad nursery nearby.
Even though the fire had passed, the struggles of living in burnt out community was just becoming real.
There is no power in Cobargo, or at Bermagui 20 minutes south.
On Tuesday service stations were out of fuel and other stations were reserving petrol for the RFS.
To the north, the road is closed to Narooma and even if they make it there the service stations are closed because there is no power.
Tom O'Mearo said his property was saved by the winds.
"It was going to the north of us and to the south us," he said.
"Looking at this (the town) we were very lucky."
It is believed up to 50 properties around Lake Conjola have reportedly been destroyed after fires ripped through the area on Tuesday with significant loses also expected in Fishermans Paradise, Broulee and Mogo.
At last count, 916 homes have been confirmed destroyed since July, with 8159 saved by the RFS and other fire crews.
Seven fires were burning at a "watch and act" level at 10am including the 229,000 hectare Currowan blaze on the south coast, the 64,000ha Clyde Mountain fire near Batemans Bay, the 165,000ha Countegany blaze east of Cooma and the 68,000ha Green Valley fire east of Albury.
An out-of-control blaze is also burning in Werri Berri, north of Bemboka near Bega.
More than 2500 firefighters are battling the blazes.
Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Wednesday said there were "heavy tolls" in terms of property damage and destruction, particularly in areas of south of Nowra, around Batemans Bay and in Cobargo.
Cobargo was aflame on Tuesday and multiple main-street buildings were razed.
"Not only are we seeing outbuildings and homes but we're seeing considerable community infrastructure (destroyed)," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
"We're looking at businesses, halls, there's reports of a number of schools, two or three schools that have been heavily impacted."
Property inspectors would tour fire sites across NSW throughout Wednesday and authorities would be seeking to clear and open arterial roads.
However, dangerous fire conditions would return on Saturday.
"We are assuming that on Saturday weather conditions will be at least as bad as what they were yesterday," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
"That is something all of us have to brace ourselves for."
Some of the worst-affected communities along the coast battled bushfires into Tuesday night with no power and limited telecommunications.
All power had been lost from South Nowra to Moruya and "potentially beyond", affecting at least 46,000 people and the supported telecoms network.
Meanwhile major roads, including several parts of the Princes Highway, are likely to remain closed for some time due to hazards, trapping some holiday-makers.
Ms Berejiklian plans to visit south coast communities on Wednesday, while the federal government has made disaster recovery assistance available to five south coast regions, including Bega Valley and Snowy Valleys.