Aussie who lost wife to cancer, then home in wildfire, refuses to give up search for dog - 'All I've got left'

Ash Graham's dog Kozi wakes him at 8am, eager for his morning walk.

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“He's all I've got left, he's all that's left after my wife passed away,” Ash Graham says. Source: Associated Press

Then Ash realises he's dreaming.

He gets up from the one-man tent he's been sleeping in since the fire swept through the village of Nerrigundah on New Year's Eve.

And Ash begins his weary search for Kozi once again: hiking south down the dried-up creek, past the wallabies that were burned to death as they fled, knocking on doors, trying to keep track of the grids he's already covered.

Ash's wife Melanie died from cancer a year or so ago and his house burned down in the fire.

His truck and his few belongings are all with him in the yard of the fire station, the last place he saw Kozi.

A volunteer firefighter, Ash had left Kozi at the station and was driving around warning people to leave when his dog bolted.

"He's everything I've got left, he's all that's left after my wife passed away. He's my best mate. Literally, best mate," Graham said.

"I'm just hoping he was faster than Armageddon."

The tiny village of Nerrigundah in New South Wales has been among the hardest hit by Australia's devastating wildfires, with about two-thirds of the homes destroyed.

A man in his 70s who lived near the village was killed.

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A team of around 20 are tackling fires in New South Wales, 1 NEWS Australia correspondent Ryan Boswell reports. Source: 1 NEWS

Like many small communities in Australia that have been scorched by the wildfires, Nerrigundah will never be the same.

Colin Brennan's home was turned into rubble by the storm. He plans to rebuild, but doesn't know how many neighbours will join him.

"I'll be back, yeah, this is home. This is where I live, this is me. I've got a life. I can walk around without using me white stick," said Brennan, who is legally blind.

Once a thriving gold mining town that was home to over 1,000 people, Nerrigundah has lately been home to just a few dozen people who love the peace of the Australian bush, a place from the bustling cities where their dogs can run around.

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The animal was seen wrapped in blankets as it received a helping hand from Animal Evac New Zealand volunteers. Source: Animal Evac New Zealand

But now the 150-year-old store has burned down. The old schoolhouse is gone, and so is the church.

The wildfire caught the village by surprise, after it was expected to hit a day or two later. And nobody could believe its ferocity.

Across the other side of town, Lyle Stewart, 65, was retching from the thick black smoke as he tried to save his house by dousing it in water. Then his hose caught alight.

But he and his buddy made it to Lyle's car. The air conditioning helped filter the gunk they were breathing.

It took them 90 minutes to drive the short distance to the fire station as they used a chainsaw to cut through a half-dozen flaming trees that had fallen across the road.

Residents are still coming to terms with what they have lost.

Lyle, who moved here in 1985, had just finished restoring a caravan that has been reduced to ash.

Then there are the thousands of comics his son had collected that he was storing.

What really irks him, he jokes, is that carton of Victoria Bitter beer he'd just bought and hadn't had a single drink from.

"This is everything we've worked for over the last 35 years, gone," he says.

He doesn't know whether he and his wife will return.

"When I took photos and showed her in Moruya and then brought her out here, she broke down," he said.

Graham is continuing his vigil outside the fire station where he last saw Kozi. Regardless of what happens in his search, he is planning to stay in the village.

"I'll always be in Nerrigundah, I can't leave this place. The community is too good for that," he said.