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‘Fire blasted through like a freight train…but I’m alive’: bushfires hit South Coast sign business

Geoff Richards, owner of Bay Signs in Batemans Bay, says he’s “just surviving” after devastating bushfires tore through the South Coast NSW area in the early hours of New Year’s Day.

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 Evacuees on a beach at Batemans Bay NSW amid the bushfire threat. (Twitter: Alastairprior, Jan 1, 2020)
geoff Richards Bay Signs

  "I'm alive, that is the important part": Bay Signs
          owner Geoff Richards (Dec 2019)


 “I've had no power or water for some time now and my phone is on a car battery ACC so I don't have much time for phone calls at this stage,” Richards told Wide Format Online in an email sent by phone.

Richards, an ASGA member whose business was already badly affected by the bushfires that have burned for weeks and cut off the popular tourist town before Christmas, says the massive firestorm that swept through the area in the New Year has pushed his company to the wall. 

“Last week when the first fire front went through I honestly thought I had lost my home. The fire front blasted through like a freight train and there was no time to put a fire plan into action, other than to evacuate to what I thought was a safer option - my workshop in the industrial area - but this was a big mistake. The north westerly wind forced another fire into the outskirts of town, blowing it towards the southern end of the Industrial area, damaging and destroying factories in its path. Eventually it jumped the road into the bushland running alongside the northern end of the industrial area, burning to the ground the factories alongside me and behind me in our four factory complex. Only two are still standing.

“Tension and panic among the visitors trying to leave was chaotic. Fuel depots were crammed with vehicles trying to fuel up, queues of traffic ran through traffic lights, causing mayhem for the people trying to get to their destinations, and the added problems of power stations being burnt out, causing electrical blackouts, added to the hysteria.

"The second fire on the Saturday was a huge concern. Nobody knew what was going to happen. Everyone went into survival mode which again caused chaos but thankfully the winds were in our favour and helped the fire plane pilots to contain areas under threat. We’ve now had little spurts of rain which have helped to lift spirits, and the southerly winds have helped to keep the temperatures down. Some parts of the town now have power and water, others have none. During all the chaos people have had no phones to call family due to the power outages. Phones were unable to be charged unless you had a generator, also the signal was weak due to the fire taking out telecom towers.

“Slowly, and I mean slowly, people are trying to get back to their lives, technicians and tradies are working to resurrect the damaged infrastructure and hopefully life will return to some normality.

“I have an electrician at present trying to get the factory working but because of burned out buildings alongside and to the back of our place the main power board and water supply are cut. It will be a minimum two months before services are back to some sort of operation. I'm going to need some financial help soon because what I have is being depleted quickly due to the costs of just surviving. But I'm alive, that is the important part. The rest will come.

"This would be the most harrowing experience that I, along with many others, have ever experienced. I just hope now that the powers to be will use this situation to help reduce the chances of this kind of atrocity ever happening again."

If you can help in any way, email Geoff at baysigns1@bigpond.com

In an update on Wednesday morning, the Rural Fire Service said the 303,000 hectare fire that was still burning between Batemans Bay and Nowra and east of Braidwood was "being controlled."

photo Batemans Bay Rural Fire Brigade
  (photo: Batemans Bay Rural Fire Brigade)

The NSW Rural Fire Service said that so far this season, 1,687 homes have been destroyed, and more than 21,000 buildings have been saved in NSW. “Since 1 January, 771 homes have been lost. This figure is likely to increase. It will take time for teams to work through these areas due to limited access on isolated roads and villages.”