Tathra: The Rural Fire Service has defended its handling of the Tathra bushfire, following reports it rejected offers of help from Fire and Rescue NSW as the fire escalated after midday on Sunday.
A RFS spokesman said while the fire was still isolated to the bush and had not reached suburban areas the RFS determined that the Fire and Rescue NSW vehicles - designed to fight house fires in suburbs - would not be able to gain access to the area.
"The first Triple Zero calls were received just before 12:30pm on Sunday and firefighters from a number of local Rural Fire Service brigades were dispatched. The first brigade was on scene at 12:43pm," the spokesman said.
"When the fire jumped the Bega River and escalated, assistance was requested and provided by Fire & Rescue NSW."
They managed to bring the blaze under control without a single fatality or life threatening injury.
RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said while the fire was burning in remote mountainous terrain, "it would have been dangerous to have [Fire NSW] there".
Scores of residents will be bussed into Tathra on Tuesday to see if their homes are still standing but will be unable to leave the bus due to fears that asbestos dust has contaminated the bushfire-stricken streets.
Many of the 69 homes that were left decimated by the fire that swept through the town on Sunday were built between the 1960s and 1980s, the peak of the asbestos boom, leaving rows of houses across Wildlife Drive and Ocean View Terrace exposed to the deadly material.
Residents were told at the evacuation centre in Bega that they would not be allowed to properly begin the clean up until asbestos testing had finished, preventing them from re-entering their homes until Wednesday at least, but tours of the damage would begin from Tuesday morning.
In Tathra, locals who stayed behind to fight stared in disbelief at the random nature of the fire, which saw entire blocks decimated and 30 caravans engulfed, only to leave one home standing in the middle.
The blaze encircled the town and dumped embers on blocks of land, snaking its way up the coastal track to create a wall of flames by the sea.
Unable to escape, the smoke left kangaroos dead in the middle of suburban streets, lying next to children's playgrounds blackened by the heat.
Looking out over the ocean from where he had protected his family home of 33 years, Clint Morehead said not enough back burning had been done, adding fuel to the fire as it moved towards the surf town.
"There was nowhere near enough back burning I haven’t seen a proper backburn in 15 years," he said.
"The greenies have been on their back about habitats of animals and it's meant they don't do enough in dense gullies, some of the fire trails are now completely overgrown."
Deputy Commissioner Rogers said dealing with nature was not always “an exact science”.“Sometimes things are going to happen that we don't expect and this fire got out of the area they were trying to hold it and then obviously it moved very quickly from that point on,” he told the ABC.
The deputy commissioner confirmed he had heard reports there had not been hazard reduction burns, but to his knowledge there had been “quite a number” in the last 10 years.
“There has been dozens of hazard-reduction activities in that area,” he said. “There was one that was only two or three years' old and the fire went straight through that burn as well.
Deputy Commissioner Rogers said the RFS would look at what hazard reduction burns occurred in the area prior to the fire.
“Unfortunately when it is really extreme weather, the more intense the fire activity and the fire danger, the less effective a hazard-reduction is,” he said. “That is not to say we shouldn't do it. We absolutely should.”
Local MP Mike Kelly said the weather conditions for the fire were bizarre, with temperatures reaching record March highs on Sunday.
"I'm not sure what else could have been done to deal with that sort of situation, frankly," he said.
Up to a dozen residents that spoke to Fairfax Media said they received no warning about the fire before emergency services arrived at their door ordering them to evacuate.
Mr Kelly said the government "would look at the lessons learnt from that" after the areas notorious communications blackspot came under criticism for essential evacuation messages not getting through.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian appointed NSW flood veteran Euan Ferguson as the disaster's recovery co-ordinator on Monday, he said he needed at least 24 hours to clear the area of asbestos before the community could return.
"It's well known that asbestos dust, which arises after asbestos is burned, is very mobile and can get into the atmosphere," he said. "It can get into the lungs and cause fatal diseases."