Eurobodalla Shire farmer Keith Dance faced a "tsunami wave of fire" which tore through the valley of Belowra, west of Bodalla, on New Year's Eve and took the life of his neighbour.
The Badja Forest Road fire had already taken two lives at Cobargo before Colin Burns at Belowra and another man at Nerrigundah.
It was Mr Dance and his son who found Mr Burns in his burned out vehicle.
Tuesday, January 7, was the first day Mr Dance, who farms at Belowra, had a moment to rest.
The former Eurobodalla Shire councillor was prepared for the fire a week beforehand, but wasn't expecting such a fierce fight.
"We had water on trucks and dozers, we were expecting a grass fire," he said.
"But it ran across bare ground and lit up the ridge in one fell swoop."
He remembers a "fire storm" which formed after two blazes converged.
There wasn't enough water; to defend it was near impossible- Keith Dance
"It was 6am when it rolled off the Great Divide and into the valley," Mr Dance said.
"It kept rolling through like a wave - there would have been a fire front 10-15km wide."
Mr Dance watched as the red glow on the ridge grew bigger. Within an hour, the fire was on his doorstep.
"There was an ember attack on the house and the shed, with 100km winds full of ash and debris," he said.
He decided to leave his home and his livestock behind.
"There wasn't enough water; to defend it was near impossible," he said.
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Mr Dance retreated to already burnt ground for safety. His 72-year-old neighbour died attempting to flee from the inferno.
"Colin tried to leave when it was too late," Mr Dance said.
"(He) tried to out run it with a trailer and water tank.
"He had rolled and couldn't move on."
Mr Dance and his son were returning to assess their property when they found Mr Burns inside his burnt-out vehicle.
All the local boys were on their chainsaws for 20km cutting a track out ...- Keith Dance
"We hoped he wouldn't be in there," Mr Dance said.
"He was an eccentric sort of bloke and part of the Belowra firies."
Out of about 15 homes in the valley, Mr Dance said three still stood. They are surrounded by black pastures scattered with dead livestock.
"There's a whack of dead cattle out there," Mr Dance said.
"The fire's ferocity was phenomenal - it basically blew the cows up," he said.
"My neighbour had five cows left out of 60.
"I found 40 of my cows, 30 calves and four horses dead.
"It was painful financially, physically and mentally."
At about "$1000 a throw" the death of each cow had been an emotional hit for Mr Dance, his family and neighbours.
He said there were only two stock yards remaining and to make things more tough - the valley had run dry. There's about 600 cattle in the valley and more than 100 have been lost - we are still looking to do a count.
The community banded together to source emergency hay and move their remaining stock off the ground.
All the main bridges were burnt and trees littered the roads. Access became a priority.
"All the local boys were on their chainsaws for 20km cutting a track out; we got the bulldozer and pushed out causeways so we had access to town to bring fodder back," Mr Dance said.
South East Local Land Services provided hay - enough for three days.
In the meantime, as there was nothing left to burn at Belowra, Mr Dance said the focus was to secure boundary lines to keep cattle where they belong and to begin rebuilding homes.
"It's a massive restoration job - 50 years of my work has been obliterated," he said.
"I am lucky to still have a dozer to clean up the mess."
He said the fire was "unprecedented and incinerated the place".
He believed major trees in the valley were more than 300 years old.
"My theory is, there would have been a catastrophic event back then," he said.
"We have had fires but nothing of this magnitude, it has to be a one-in-300 year event."
South East Local Land Services are providing assistance including emergency fodder, animal assessments, veterinary services and stock burial.
Bushfire-affected land managers can call the Agriculture and Animal Services hotline on 1800 814 647. A spokesperson said stock water can also be replaced where it has been taken for fire fighting purposes.
"We ask that you please call 1800 814 647 to register and only present to a fodder distribution point when advised to. We are processing a lot of requests and we need your cooperation to make sure we can do this safely and efficiently," the spokesperson said.
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