Pregnant widow Renee’s heartbreaking tribute to hero husband
The pregnant and "broken" widow of a Cobargo man killed with his father battling to save their property has made a heartbreaking post to her husband on behalf of herself and the couple's young son.
Renee Salway posted on social media that her family was "broken" as they dealt with the loss of the young father.
"I love you now, I love you still, I always have and I always will. I will see you again Patrick, my best friend. Hope you are up there "fixing things in the stars tonight" ... Love forever Harley & Me. (Thank you everyone for your concern. We are broken) Goodnight."
LOSING THEIR HOMES BATTLING TO SAVE TOWN
A dozen local firefighters in Cobargo protecting properties meanwhile lost their own homes to the blaze which tore through the historic town, it was revealed tonight.
Rural Fire Station president John Walters said the devastation was still too raw to comprehend.
"It's going to be so traumatic for them," he said.
Mr Walters said the fire crews were out on their trucks inspecting the nearby blaze at 4am when it "beat them back" to the town.
"It was of the size and magnitude that we were expecting," he said.
"Then it passed us to the east and we were waiting for the wind to change to south easterly.
"The sky went dark and red which is a sign something bad is going to happen.
Instead of more wind and fire, it rained debris in Cobargo and along the South Coast.
"There's still a lot of work to do," Mr Walters said, adding that the town "felt like a morgue".
"The crew will still be out tonight and tomorrow doing the clean up."
Incident controller Bruce Euroballa said the town was hit by a 25m high wall of flames travelling at 35-40kmh.
"I was driving here from Tilba and it almost rolled my truck," he said.
"I was definitely on two wheels.
"Then I got here and we just started property protection.
"There was not much else we could do.
"The only thing I have seen like it is Black Saturday in Victoria."
Last night those without a home stayed with friends or at the local pub that had no power.
FATHER AND SON KILLED
A fire-ravaged community is mourning the loss of two "salt of the earth blokes" who died defending their home near Cobargo.
Patrick, 29, and his 63-year-old father Robert Salway tried to save their home and farming equipment from the raging Badja Forest blaze on Monday night.
Their bodies were found by a family member early on Tuesday at their property in Wandeall, about 10km northwest of Cobargo.
"A woman has told police she'd left the property (last night), but her husband and son stayed behind to defend the home and farm equipment," NSW Police said in a statement. "She returned this morning and discovered their bodies."
Patrick's wife Renee is expecting the couple's second child.
Cobargo resident David Allen has known the family for most of his life.
"They were really good guys, just some salt of the earth blokes. It's sad, it is a bloody tragedy," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"Patrick was a really good, affable guy, he would always help everyone out when they needed it. He loved his horses and showjumping, he played footy. It is really sad.
"Robert was a really community-minded bloke. A great guy. It is terrible, horrific. It was like a war zone when the fire came through there were embers coming out of the sky, it was almost pitch black."
NSW Farmers Dairy Committee chair Colin Thompson said the family had strong roots in the industry and would be greatly missed.
"They are multigenerational dairy farmers who are very well respected in the industry and in the town," he said.
"Robert was a genuine, hard working farmer who had survived drought and low milk prices. This is really going to devastate the dairy community in Bega.
"Patrick was very highly regarded in the industry. He also leaves behind a young family. If there is anything we can do to help, we want to."
A TOWN LOST
Nearby at the small historic town of Cobargo, an "inferno" ripped through shops and homes.
Meanwhile further north in Belowra a man, believed to be volunteer firefighter Col Burns, remains missing.
Mr Burns, a member of the Belowra Rural Fire Service brigade, has not been seen and is unaccounted for and there are serious fears for his safety, sources told The Daily Telegraph.
He was not on duty but is believed to have out defending properties from the out of control Badja Fire.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said it was a "tragic set of circumstances" that led to their death.
"We can say certainly that the two men at Cobargo are residents of Cobargo. A father and son, as we believe. It is a very tragic set of circumstances," he said.
"Obviously they were trying to do their best when the fire came through in the early hours of the morning.
"The other person that we are trying to get to, west of Narooma, we think that person as well was caught up, trying to defend their property in the early hours of the morning."
Narooma RFS firefighter Neil Crawley was in Cobargo trying to save buildings when "the shit hit the fan".
"There were seven shops lost on the main street," he said.
"It was like an inferno.
"When the shit hit the fan this morning most of the trucks were in isolated positions.
"They just had to do what they could to protect homes and shops."
He said some of the shops that burnt down in Cobargo would have been 100 years old.
Mr Crawley's crew moved back to Narooma to protect their own town.
"There are 6000 people in Narooma, evacuated from towns around here," he said.
"We are now in the strike zone, the fires are coming right here."
Bermagui resident Dan Bakker said it was a grim morning.
"At our town, right near Cobargo. It was black as night, it almost like the sun was coming up from the west," he told The Daily Telegraph.
"The whole thing was strange it felt like there was this onshore wind that was going towards the fires, fuelling them.
The Main Street of Cobargo has been completely destroyed. pic.twitter.com/3Cqw9GzuTs— AtticusThomas (@AtticusThomas) 31 December 2019
The RFS were expecting an arduous task to get emergency services on the ground as both these towns due to the amount of fire activity in the location.
Earlier today Bega Valley Shire Council Mayor Kristy McBain told The Daily Telegraph Cobargo was surrounded by fire this morning.
"There are currently four separate fires burning around Cobargo," she said.
"I can't confirm the amount of properties that have been destroyed."
This video sent to me from a property at Coolagolite, east of Cobargo. The Badja Forest fire is currently at Emergency Warning, and has already torn through Cobargo - reports the school and several buildings in the main street lost. Heartbreaking. pic.twitter.com/naBBcoI2QS— Emily Barton (@emilybarton1211) 31 December 2019
Residents were told to evacuate the town at 4am this morning but some stayed.
"We live next to the school on the church side, when we left (around 5am) there was a fire truck at the church," Trish Thompson wrote on Facebook.
"The firefighter told me they were only there to save the church and the school. As we left the fire in the back paddock behind me was coming up to my house, the church.
"I'm not sure if my house is OK."
Hundreds of residents and tourists were also stranded on the beach at Lake Conjola as the Currowan bushfire tears through the small holiday town.
Images from evacuees showed apocalyptic scenes with ominous orange skies and billowing smoke clouds as up to 40 homes and businesses were reportedly destroyed by the fire.
Lake Conjola visitor Makayla Hochkins said she was packed and ready to leave when the orders came through early this morning.
"We were told to stay put until a member of the RFS came through shouting for us to get out," Ms Hochkins told The Daily Telegraph.
"We've been down here for two hours or so now, the smoke has cleared dramatically and the southerly has pushed the fire affecting the parks back away from here."
Ms Hochkins said helicopters were relentlessly waterbombing the blaze, which has reportedly claims homes in Edwin Ave and Lakeside Dr, historic cottages on Chinamans Island and the beloved local bowlo.
"We're just staying put until we get the okay to go home," Ms Hochkins said. "We have no idea when we will be able to go home, if not we have no idea what we will do - probably try to head home north if the highways are open and our cars are still there."
Chinamans Island resident Glenda Milham said she was desperately waiting for news about her home on the island.
Ms Milham has headed a high-profile campaign to protect the historic island cottages, some of which were built in the 1950s, and have them heritage-listed.
"It would be so cruel to have lost them as we were so close to securing a way to keep them," Ms Milham said. "Life really sucks sometimes but my concern now is for the safety of all the people who are running to the beach to save their lives - it is like hell down there today, just so much loss."
Homes have been lost along Dunns Creek Road, just inland from the village of Tomakin south of Batemans Bay, and at Towrand Crescent at Surf Beach, closer to Batemans Bay.
Car parks in the centre of town were packed as people crowded into the shopping centre to hide from the blazes.