Firefighter breaks down on-air over claims he 'failed' to save town

Olivia Lambert
Associate News Editor

A devastated firefighter has choked back tears as he spoke about battling a blaze that “all but wiped out” a small village southwest of Sydney.

The firefighter, only known as Greg, told John Stanley’s 2GB program the language used by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian following the fires made him feel as though RFS crews “failed” when trying to save the village of Balmoral at the weekend.

The premier said on Sunday “there was not much left” of the town all but wiped out by the Green Wattle Creek firestorm that roared through the area twice in three days.

“It was horrific,” an emotional Greg said.

“Balmoral has not been wiped off the map. It is not almost gone. It is all still there.

“The suggestion that we failed in defending that village… I don’t know how the other guys take that, but, me personally, I’m quite offended at the suggestion that we lost that village because we didn’t.

Fire tears through a home in Balmoral on Friday. Source: Getty Images

“I had mates hospitalised.”

The community of Balmoral was already reeling after being hit on Thursday when the flames returned on Saturday during catastrophic fire conditions.

"We've got the devastating news there's not much left in the town of Balmoral," Ms Berejiklian said on Sunday in nearby Picton.

"Very sad to hear that. Many residents have had that news in the last little while. Communities like Buxton and others have also been very hard hit."

Volunteer RFS firefighters Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36, died on Thursday night when a tree fell into the path of their tanker in Buxton, just north of Balmoral.

The NSW Premier said the town of Balmoral was all but wiped out at the weekend. Source: Getty Images

‘They were all banding together’

The premier said some residents would be allowed to return to their properties on either Sunday or Monday, but others could have to wait longer.

Assessment teams are going in to determine when it will be safe for people to go home.

"If people have lost their properties they still want to go back to see what's left and if there is anything they can salvage," Ms Berejiklian said.

"We know that's part of the recovery. We want people to have access to their land as soon as they can, but it has to be safe."

Balmoral, in the Wingecarribee Shire Council area, consists of about 150 houses with a population of some 400 people.

Matthew Deeth – who's the mayor of the neighbouring Wollondilly Shire Council – says everyone knows everyone in the small village.

"They were all banding together until they got hit yesterday and they were just decimated," Mr Deeth told AAP on Sunday.

"Most people were pulled out of their houses and if there was nobody defending houses they kind of just all lit up."

Many homes were lost in Balmoral as firefighters battled to bring it under control. Source: Getty Images

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons earlier said "dozens" of homes may have been lost when bushfires raged across NSW on Saturday.

Most of the losses were from the Green Wattle Creek fire, the huge Gospers Mountain blaze – northwest of Sydney, and the Currowan bushfire on the South Coast.

Almost 200 bushfires burning across Australia

Seven people have been killed and more than 900 homes have been lost during this year’s bushfire season as 200 blazes rage across the country.

About 2000 koalas are feared dead and thousands of outbuildings have been destroyed or damaged along with stock and crops.

Out of the 110 bushfires in NSW, almost 60 of those are uncontained.

Along with the two volunteer firefighters in the state, four others were killed on the Mid-North Coast – 69-year-old Vivian Chaplain, 85-year-old George Nole, 63-year-old Julie Fletcher and an unnamed 58-year-old man.

Smoke continues to affect Sydney as 100 buildings were destroyed over the weekend alone.

The huge Gospers Mountain blaze, northwest of Sydney, is hitting areas including Lithgow and along the Bells Line of Road in the upper Blue Mountains.

Meanwhile the Green Wattle Creek fire, southwest of the city, is devastating the Wollondilly Shire villages of Buxton and Bargo.

Currowan blaze on the South Coast, north of Batemans Bay, has hit communities near Nerriga.

Meanwhile two fires are uncontrolled in Victoria, in Tambo Crossing in East Gippsland and Hotspur, Digby, in the Western District. East Gippsland fires have been burning since Thursday but cooler conditions have given firefighters a reprieve.

A firefighter said he was offended by suggestions crews failed to save Balmoral. Source: Getty Images

There is a huge fire in Adelaide Hills and one 69-year-old man, Ron Selth, has been killed in the state this bushfire season with three more hospitalised with burns.

There have been significant losses to crops, with 25,000 hectares burnt within a 127km perimeter.

More than 70 homes have been lost, along with 404 other buildings and 227 vehicles over the weekend.

Most concern is centred on difficult terrain around the Kangaroo Creek Reservoir at Castambul.

About 60 fires are burning within containment lines across Queensland, with severe fire conditions in the Central Highlands and Coalfields and Upper Flinders region in central Queensland. Cooler conditions and some rain are expected around Christmas Eve.

In Western Australia lives and homes were threatened by bushfires in Perth’s Hills region around Roleystone in the city’s southeast and a massive blaze at Yanchep, north of Perth, last week before being downgraded.

Firefighters battled heatwave conditions for much of the six-day fire, saving thousands of properties. One house and a Yanchep petrol station were destroyed and about 13,000 hectares were burnt.

With AAP

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