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Batlow prepares for the worst

Heavy machinery establishing containment lines at Old Tumbarumba Road, near Batlow, today.

The community of Batlow is under threat of being impacted by fire, with hot and dry conditions, typified by temperatures up to 41 degrees and strong winds, predicted for Saturday.

In a meeting held at Batlow RSL on Wednesday, residents were told by representatives from the Rural Fire Service and NSW Police that the fire front was coming and for them to expect the worst.

Batlow resident Steve Stuenkel is one of those who is preparing for the worst but is still trying to remain positive. 

“We have just packed our car with pictures, heirlooms, trophies and everything that we just can’t replace,” Mr Stuenkel said.

“We will send all of that to Tumut and just try and ride out the storm and hope for the best.”

Stuenkel described the current predicament in Batlow.

“You can’t see more than two feet in front of you, ash is falling and you can hear all of the dozers cutting containment lines for what is Armageddon on Saturday,” Mr Stuenkel said.

Stuenkel recounted his attendance at Wednesday’s community meeting at Batlow RSL, which forced his hand and made him decide to leave Batlow.

“I attended the town meeting yesterday at Batlow RSL and it was shocking and confronting,” Mr Stuenkel said.

“They spoke the truth though and I believe they said what they said, so they could get as many people out of town and reduce the potential loss of life.

“We have since been putting a contingency plan in place, so my wife and two sons can head back to Tumut and I’ll stay here as long as I can and put some sprinklers on the roof and leave when I think it is the right time.”

Stuenkel believes he is one of the lucky ones though, after recounting some of the lost properties in the region.

“There are a lot of farmers around Batlow who have lost of everything and in other stories, some houses have been saved by the skin of their teeth,” Mr Stuenkel said.

“We are just so saddened by the losses to so many good people.”

The grateful Batlow resident showed his thanks to the Rural Fire Service though, and thanked all the volunteers working overtime to save the town.

“I can’t stress enough how much the fire fighters have done,” Mr Stuenkel said.

“They are just working all the time, cutting containment lines and preparing for the fire front that is coming.”

Stuenkel is frustrated though and believes this situation could have been managed better in the lead up to such severe fires.

 “When I was a young bloke, they managed all this stuff and I think having so much fuel on the ground is the reason we are seeing such bad fires. “

Another resident making final preparations for Saturday are Smart Animal Sanctuary founder and Craft Cider owners Lorene and Tony Cross.

“We are preparing now, everything is moved away from the house,” Mrs Cross said.

“We have buckets and hoses ready and we have mowed down the grass as low as we can around the house and the sheds.”

Cross, who has 55 acres to manage, has already battled three grass fires, which took off towards the Crafty Cider apple orchard before her husband and the RFS got control of them.

“Tony has been a real trooper, managing small spot fires and the RFS has been absolutely amazing,” Mrs Cross said.

“They keep driving past and checking on us and if a grass fire appears, they just appear themselves and deal with it; they are absolutely brilliant.”

The Cross family are staying put though and hope they can ride out the fire front.

“If it gets that bad, we will be out of here in one direction or the other, we have a few escape routes around here and we will open the gates,” Mrs Cross said.

“Hopefully we can stay though and keep the house safe.”