Fire survivors praise rapid response

One week on bushfires remain a threat


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Tim and John Dougherty on the Clarence River south of Tabulam have already moved to destock in the wake of damaging bushfires that continue to burn.

Tim and John Dougherty on the Clarence River south of Tabulam have already moved to destock in the wake of damaging bushfires that continue to burn.

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Bushfires in the north of the state continue to pose a risk one week after they started as beef producers put on a brave face

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One week after bushfires began in northern NSW they remain alight, although contained, with fire crews yesterday busy in isolated gullies near Tabulam, where 7660 hectares have been scorched after a rubbish fire escaped from a bin at a property on the Bruxner Highway.

The woman, 40, charged with starting the blaze, which has claimed 11 homes and sheds and at one point travelled 15 kilometres in 15 minutes, will appear in the Casino Local Court February 27.

On the Tingha Plateau the worst fire in memory, for local graziers like Michael Jackson, has claimed 23,377ha with backburning continuing although the fire is contained.

The largest blaze by far is still burning north of Tenterfield, engulfing 37,812ha including land in remote gullies east of Boonoo Boonoo National Park and west into Sundown National Park.

Stock losses have been minimal but there is much lost opportunity, with affected producers now forced to sell on a low market and will most likely buy back in, after pastures have re-established, at much higher prices.

Commission buyer and cattle trader John Dougherty estimated he lost $30,000 worth of fencing and the same again in lost opportunity at his Tabulam property. Earlier this week he was forced to sell 160 heifers to Meandarra, Qld, for less per kilo than he paid for them, while his cows will go to Teys and the steers to Casino saleyards. A crop of high-moisture corn has survived but will be downgraded and baled for silage.

"We'll have to oversow our burnt paddocks with rye and oats to get some ground cover, but we've been advised to wait until March when it's cooler so it will be perhaps May before we get any green pick," said Mr Dougherty.

John's brother Tim and his wife Louise, Angus breeders, deflected the fire only just at their front gate, after opening up internal fences and allowing cattle to make a run for the safety of the Clarence River.

Among their losses were pasture and a machinery shed, which included a pecan nut harvester, although their pecan plantation survived. As breeders their options for feeding are limited, although they are hopeful of some agistment for their best heifers.

"It will be spring before any permanent pasture comes back," he said. "We'll see what happens, but our options are limited. At least we have water. The cattle can always be fed."

Across the river near the Tabulam Racecourse, Graham Davis holds his chin high.

"We'll battle on," he said with some stoicism, describing how he fought the fire and nearly lost his life only to have it saved by Mummulgum fire brigade volunteer Tom Botfield who pulled him, nearly asphyxiated by smoke, into their sprinkler-protected cab as the fire suddenly advanced.

"Flames were coming up under my ute and I was too afraid to get in it in case it exploded," he explained.

Among the Davis' losses was a shed full of hay, worth $12,000, intended to feed first cross Brahman/ Hereford breeders and their steers by Charolais bulls.

"I only had a load of lucerne delivered from Gatton the week before and the bloke who sold it to me said "make the best of it" because with the ongoing dry the next crop of hay wasn't responding to irrigation.

"Sometimes you wonder whether this is all worth it. We're only baby sitting the land while everybody else tells us how to manage it."

Chauvel Road resident Mark Smith said he was lucky to escape the fire on his quad bike, racing for the sanctuary of the river and opening internal gates on the way to let cattle and horses run for their lives. When he got back to his home, saved by rural fire brigade crews, all the spared livestock were making quick work of what was left of his garden.

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Swift response

Landholders have been quick to praise emergency authorities and volunteers for responding the fires.

State Government acted quickly to declare a state of emergency. Federal Government reacted by diverting drought relief fodder to desperately needy livestock.

Local Land Services veterinarians were on the scene offering assistance, as were beef officers with the LLS

At Tabulam staff from Delaney Civil, tasked with building the new bridge over the Clarence River "downed tools" according to cattleman Graham Davis and made quick use of their water trucks. Staff from Woodenbong-based earthmoving company MJ Smith did the same.

"I can't fault the rural fire service or forestry - they patrolled my place for two days. They were unreal," said Mr Davis.

Norco Rural Stores donated a truck load of hay for emergency fodder and left a pallet of pony pellets and cattle nuts at the Tabulam rural store for smaller animals, said field officer Bruce Lyle. Norco also donated care packages for people affected by the fires.

Assistance measures

Help for eligible people whose homes or belongings have been damaged;

  • Support for affected local councils to help with the costs of cleaning up and restoring damaged essential public assets;
  • Concessional interest rate loans for small businesses, primary producers and non-profit organisations;
  • Freight subsidies for primary producers; and grants to eligible non-profit organisations.
  • For information, to to seek assistance, contact the Disaster Welfare Assistance Line on 1800 018 444.
  • Fires near you:
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