South Coast firefighters and residents play waiting game with wind

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NSW South Coast residents were playing an anxious waiting game on Saturday afternoon, with fire crews fighting fresh outbreaks, fearful that gusty winds could push existing blazes towards more homes.

But firefighters and residents were determined not to lose any more homes, one saying: “I’ve got a bit of a grudge against this fire.”

A seaplane loads water in the Moruya River to tackle fires to the north of Moruya on the NSW South Coast.

A seaplane loads water in the Moruya River to tackle fires to the north of Moruya on the NSW South Coast. Credit:Kate Geraghty

Roads were cut to the north of Moruya, a normally tranquil town by a large river south of Batemans Bay, while a blaze burning near Moruya’s historic airstrip – a launch pad for airmen from Australia and the Dutch East Indies against the Japanese during World War II – was one area of concern ahead of the expected cool change due by about 6pm.

The coastal town of Broulee, just north of Moruya, was spared by a southerly change during the New Year’s Eve inferno but will most likely come under threat later on Saturday, with the winds predicted to shift in its direction.

Apart from the airstrip, the nearby racecourse – with a World War II bunker in its centre that would be used in an emergency on Saturday if needed – was also at risk.

Water bombing aircraft used the Moruya River to refill their floats as they tackled surrounding fires.

As of late afternoon, the main concerns for the Moruya fire control centre were the blazes near Broulee and also to the south of Moruya.

The mood at Broulee fire station was fairly relaxed.

“At the moment the fire’s still not a threat,” one volunteer said. “We are in a waiting game because there is still no active, high fire at the moment,” he said. “That’s how we want it.”

Ashley Graham, an RFS volunteer from the hamlet of Nerrigundah, inland from Narooma, which is further south, told The Sun-Herald he was back on duty just days after losing his home on New Year’s Eve.

All up, nine volunteers from the brigade lost their homes while out fighting blazes that day.

“I’m a bit shell-shocked, but I’ve got a bit of a grudge against this fire,” he said.

“If I’m not here I would be out looking for my dog,” he added, as the occasional black leaf dropped from the sky.

“It was a really good community, we’re going to lose a lot of good people,” he said.

To add to the anxiety, Mr Graham woke on Friday morning by a would-be looter with a metal detector, prospecting the town’s now-destroyed post office.

A longstanding rumour had it that a former bushranger had buried stolen gold underneath it.

“We told him, ‘If you had any dignity and respect for what we’re going through, you wouldn’t be doing this,’ ” Mr Graham said.

Kelwyn White, an RFS spokeswoman at Moruya, said the cool change was due through after 5pm and could be a little stronger than expected, with steady winds of 30-40km/h, gusting to 60km/h.

One resident living to the south-west of Moruya who had moved to the town to take shelter on Saturday said it was unclear how much their property was at risk because the “Fires Near Me” app had not been updated for two days.