FIRE evacuees in NSW’s north-west were confronted with a backdrop of scorched sheep carcasses on blackened hillsides as they returned to properties reduced to charred walls and twisted iron.
Other residents around Coonabarabran were luckier, finding their homes still standing after the state’s most destructive fire in more than a decade hit areas of the Warrumbungles on Sunday.
The fire has burnt 42,000 hectares and yesterday was burning along a 100km front after destroying 40 homes, 110 sheds, machinery, fences and untold numbers of livestock.
It also damaged buildings at the Siding Springs Observatory.
In the Warrumbungles, shearer Andrew Hawkins knew it was time to get out when he saw the towering smoke plume and heard the roar of the fire approaching his property at the foot of Cow Mountain at Bugaldie on Sunday.
“I tried to get my sheep up the hill towards the grass flats but they didn't want to follow,” Mr Hawkins told AAP yesterday
“I thought ‘if I don't go, I'm going to die like you’.
“It was flanking me on both sides.”
For the next two days Mr Hawkins said he had butterflies in his stomach, couldn’t eat and was praying for his sheep.
When he returned, his house was intact but his worst fears for his stock were realised.
The bodies of his chickens were bloated and charred and nine scorched ewes and a ram lay dead on the hillside, like black statues knocked sideways but for the pink insides that had spilled out.
“I was wanting to get home to them,” he said.
In Bugaldie, crumpled tin, burnt-out tractors and warped iron gates marked spots where homes used to be.
The ferocity of the blaze had transformed aluminium cans into liquid metal.
Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the number of homes destroyed could rise as assessors entered burnt areas.
Mr Rogers said fire crews had worked hard during recent milder weather to stop the fire reaching Coonabarabran and a large communications tower that would be a big loss to the community and emergency crews if it was destroyed.