Fatal Green Valley fire spreads across border
The inferno that claimed the life of a young firefighter near Albury has continued its march across the NSW/Victorian border razing homes and turning farmland and animals to ash.
Lifeless cattle remained caught in wire fences, blackened and bloated, while feed bales smoulder on the roadside in heartbreaking sights for the drought-stricken border communities.
It's not yet known how many homes have been lost in the fast moving Green Valley fire that began when lightning struck tinder-dry terrain on the northern banks of the Murray River.
The blaze quickly escalated on Monday, created its own weather system and a fire tornado that flipped an eight-tonne tanker onto NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer Samuel McPaul, 28.
He died at the scene leaving his pregnant wife to raise their child, who is due in May, without a father.
In less than two days the fire has jumped the Murray into Victoria and expanded from five hectares to more than 110,000 hectares.
The forefront has advanced through the towns of Walwa, Cudgewa, Corryong and into the Mt Kosciusko national park.
"We do believe there are some homes lost but we don't have a number," Forest Fire Management Victoria's Leith McKenzie told reporters on Wednesday.
"The upper Murray area is extremely rugged, isolated, narrow valleys, steep hills."
A heavy blanket of smoke still hangs over the blackened farmland outside Corryong and at least a dozen dead cows and a dead wombat can be seen on the main road.
"We don't have any idea of stock losses," Mr McKenzie said.
"We're also looking at dairy farmers … looking at what we can do for dairy farms that are not impacted but can't get the milk out."
Many locals are congregating at the cemetery, which is still smouldering, to take advantage of the only phone signal in the town that still has no power, water or fuel.
"The house next to mine went," one resident said. "We're clinging on here."
The fire is continuing to burn to the south east as is another fire of roughly equal size a short distance to the north.
Fire authorities don't know if the two blazes will join if the wind changes.
"The community is very resilient," Mr McKenzie said. "There are people who have lost things, the whole community is surrounded by black."
Mr McKenzie said fire authorities are now preparing for Saturday's forecast "extreme weather" which could see a repeat of Sunday and Monday's brutality.
"We are preparing for that weather knowing we already have a fire going," he said.
The RFS, on Wednesday, established a fundraiser for Mr McPaul's wife following the death of the young man "with his whole future ahead of him".
"The young couple were in the midst of preparations to welcome their baby and Megan is now facing parenthood without Samuel," the fundraiser said.
"This is another confronting reality of the ever-present dangers faced by our firefighters, who give so much to protect property and lives, and our collective hearts are breaking."