Farmers in a Victorian-era border district have begun repairing damage from a 7,000-acre fire that wiped out thousands of cattle and destroyed farming infrastructure.
- The blaze started in South Africa and passed through Victoria, burning over 7,330 hectares
- Thousands of cattle have perished or been destroyed
- Fire also burned in the state forest that is home to the endangered red-tailed black cockatoo
PLEASE NOTE: this article contains images that may distress some people
The meadow fire was started by a car in Wrattonbully, south-eastern South Australia, around 1:30 p.m. Friday, but did most of its damage across the border after it burned down uncontrollably on farms and through the state forest.
Emergency services lowered the alert level on Sunday afternoon as the threat to private property subsided and crews worked on containment lines on the eastern edge of the blaze.
Celia Scott, a farmer in Poolaijelo in western Wimmera, said most properties in the area were affected but to varying degrees.
Those hardest hit, she said, had “lost just about every blade of grass on their property.”
Most devastating was the loss of livestock, largely sheep, including thousands that had to be destroyed after being injured in the blaze.
The agricultural sector accounts for the damage
Although no houses were destroyed, agricultural infrastructure suffered considerable damage.
“There are fences where there are no more poles,” said Ms Scott.
“It just burned so hot and so fast.”
Green Triangle Fire Alliance director Anthony Walsh said about 800 hectares of plantation timber worth more than $ 10 million had been lost.
Victoria State Agriculture Agency commander Banjo Patterson said officers had been tasked with dealing with welfare issues and helping farmers, although the extent of the damage was not still known.
Mr Patterson said that once the assessment is complete, the response will enter a recovery phase in which the department can help farmers seeking longer-term help in re-establishing their properties.
Mobile coverage, a challenge
The fire also damaged electrical infrastructure, and Powercor crews worked until Sunday to restore power to the 70 affected properties.
Ms Scott said the loss of electricity made it difficult to perform urgent tasks, such as organizing the euthanasia stockpile, due to the district’s poor mobile coverage.
“This stuff really shows how isolated we are and we are not in the middle of nowhere in Poolaijelo,” she said.
The worst fire in the district since the 1950s
Country Fire Authority Incident Controller Mark Gunning said some roads should remain closed while crews assess fire-affected trees on the roadsides that need to be removed.
The fire burned in the Meereek State Forest, a known habitat of the endangered Southeastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. Wildlife officers have been deployed to the area.
Ms Scott said the blaze was the worst in the Poolaijelo and Langkoop areas since the 1950s.
“A few years ago, we had a fairly active group [fire season] with lightning and so on, but by far the worst of my life.