PHOTOS: How close bushfire came to destroying Australia's most famous wine region

Justin Stein’s photo of town of Freeling, not far from the University of Adelaide’s famed Roseworthy Campus, shows last week’s bushfire surrounded the town. Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

Greenock, a small town of less than 900 people on the north-west edge of the Barossa Valley, is famed for the perfect “100 point” Robert Parker wines that put the region on the international map thanks to the influential US critic.

But photos taken in the wake of last week’s deadly bushfire, which killed two people, destroyed 87 homes and hundreds of farm buildings, and burnt out more than 85,000 hectares of farmland, reveal how close it came to being much, much worse.

Janet Hughes, 56, died in her car near Hamley Bridge after being trapped by the fast-moving flames. She’d gone to open a local building as a refuge for people escaping the fire. Farmer Allan Tiller, 69, of Pinery, was out fighting the fire in a paddock when he died.

Insurance claims for the Pinery fire have already topped $75 million, with more than 500 claims lodged.

Driving through the Barossa today, Justin Stein took this photo as strong winds stripped soil from the burnt landscape.

Windy conditions today, with gusts over 70km/h, created a dust storm through the region, 60km north of the capital, Adelaide, and had the potential to reignite embers.

Justin Stein has been flying over the Barossa Valley for nearly 30 year in hot air balloons. The second generation pilot knows the people on the land underneath him, having landed in their paddocks over the years with his business Barossa Balloon Adventures.

His love for the landscape he sees from 3000ft up has turned him into a passionate photographer. Stein was back in the air over the weekend, feeling immense sadness as he saw the devastation the fire wrought on both the land and the people living there.

He captured some amazing photos of how close the fire got to both Greenock and Freeling.

“I’ve been flying in this area since I was 16, and I’m 44 now,” Stein told Business Insider.

“I’ve landed on a lot of these properties over the years and gotten to know a lot of those farmers. To see it all burnt out like this is just terrible. It’s not just the landscape I love, it’s the people.

“A friend of mine, the fire got right up to his house, which he managed to save, but the whole property got burnt, yet they were volunteering to help other people.”

In the wake of the fire, Stein said he was “in two minds” about posting the photos on his company’s Facebook page “because it’s such a fresh wound”, but he’s glad he did, because the personal stories shared underneath were “just amazing”.

“One person left a message for their neighbour saying ‘Apologies for cutting your fences, but we wanted to save your sheep’, which they did. The community spirit was just amazing.”

Stein’s bird’s eye view photos of the fire are below.

Balloonist and photographer Justin Stein.

The fire closed in on the small town of Greenock, before a wind change saved it

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

The contrast between the burnt fields and patches that survived the Pinery fire is stark

Photo: Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

Around 400 farm buildings were destroyed in the fire

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

More than 85,000 hectares of some of Australia's best cereal farmland was burnt

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

Around 100 cars and another 100 pieces of farm machinery were also destroyed

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

Tens of thousands of pigs, sheep and other livestock also perished

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

The Barossa Valley is Australia's most famous wine region

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

Two of Australia's greatest wines, Hill of Grace and Grange, come from the Barossa.

Photo Justin Stein/Barossa Balloon Adventures.

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