Forty-eight seasonal workers from Vanuatu had to abandon their camps near Batlow due to the approach of a bushfire on Monday morning, and took refuge in the town itself.
The workers had been at the Montague and Costa orchard camps and evacuated at 9am on Monday.
Many gathered at Batlow RSL Club, which had been declared a safe house.
“We got an update, and the fire was so close to us so we knew we had better leave,” worker spokesman James Walau said.
“Life is more important. We grabbed important things like our passports before we left. It was a big fire and it was getting closer and we could see the flames.”
The group is preparing to stay in Batlow overnight.
“We are going to have a feed and we believe everything eventually will be normal again. We want to say thank you very much to Batlow RSL and the Batlow community for welcoming us.”
Mr Walau said that he had seen fires before back in Vanuatu, but nothing like this.
“Over there, they use just manpower, but here, they use everything, like machinery.”
Susan Newnham sought refuge in the club after having to leave her home on Keenans Road south of Batlow.
“We could see the flames,” she said.
“My husband is going to defend the house from ember attack, but if he sees the fire come over the hill he’s going to come into Batlow as well.”
The Newnhams moved to Batlow in 2012 and have never seen anything like this.
“It’s very scary,” she said.
“It’s the last thing we expected to see in Batlow. Fortunately we’ve got water in our dam and we are insured.”
Police and Batlow Rescue Squad helped evacuate six residents from Batlow Retirement Village, while the others elected to stay.
The six were taken to Tumut by Tumut Community Transport.
Fifteen people stayed the night in Adelong due to the fires on Sunday night to Monday morning.
“People came in from about 1am to 3.30am,” Adelong Services and Citizens Club staff member Judy Mellen said.
“Some were on farmstays, some were travellers and some were residents of West Batlow and Willigobung.”
The club staff were able to give them accommodation at Adelong Caravan Park.
“A few campers had left there because they were worried about the fires. We had a few cabins available,” Ms Mellen said.
Club manager Kevin King and Ms Mellen were on deck all night ensuring everyone was looked after, and had no hesitation to be there.
“A lot of people are out fighting the fire, and they are a lot more tired than I am,” she said.
“It’s not like I won’t get another chance to sleep. As a mother of teenage boys, I’m used to restless nights. It is kinsmanship towards the town. People are losing their houses, I’m just giving time.”
The Department of Family and Community Services has activated a number of evacuation centres.
Residents are advised that Evacuation Centres have been established at the following locations:
• Tumbarumba RSL Club, 34/40 Winton St, Tumbarumba.
• Adelong Services, Citizens & Bowling Club, 54 Tumut Street, Adelong.
• Holbrook Library, Library Court, Holbrook.
The centres will provide residents access to services including welfare for evacuees and direction to assist with small animals. DPI staff will be available to the Evacuation Centres to assist residents with small domestic animals.
Those residents seeking to take shelter only can do so at:
• Batlow RSL, 6 Mayday Rd, Batlow.
• Club Tumut, 24-30 Richmond Street Tumut.
• Talbingo Country Club, Bridle Street, Talbingo
Note these Centres do not provide access to welfare or animal services.
Local Land Services and NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) are on the ground providing assistance to landholders who have been impacted by the fire at the following location:
Tumut Showground is now open as a self-care shelter place for domestic and large animals. Plenty of room including for horses, cattle, sheep and poultry. Local Land Services staff are on site to provide assistance and advice.