Wicked start to spring

Graziers fight for feed as windy change fuels bushfires


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A line of fire descends timbered slopes towards paddocks along Plains station Road on Saturday night, south of Tabulam. Another arm of the same fire returned on Monday. Photo by Evi Koch.

A line of fire descends timbered slopes towards paddocks along Plains station Road on Saturday night, south of Tabulam. Another arm of the same fire returned on Monday. Photo by Evi Koch.

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An enormous 50,000ha bush fire near Ebor has gorged on essential drought feed

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Bushfires fed by significant winds dealt a cruel blow to grass fed livestock producers this week as bush fires exploded out of timbered country along the Eastern Fall.

The enormous Bees Nest fire originally flared up in gorge country east of Armidale before roaring out of the Guy Fawkes National Park on Friday. It ran before north-west shifting to south-west winds that flung tin roof sheets and snapped large trees. Any pasture with feed proved to be fair game.

At Hernani near Ebor the maw of black smoke sent the afternoon so dark and dense that responders couldn't read the fire line, never mind the spot fires igniting well in front and out of sight.

As of yesterday that fire was still burning across more than 66,000 hectares of the upper Guy Fawkes and Nymboida rivers, most of it in forest but still threatening the villages of Dundarrabin and Billys Creek.

Wilmot manager Stuart Austin, crowned the young carbon farmer of the year late last month, said he had never been so frightened, even during his experience with Northern Territory grass fires.

Prior to disaster Mr Austin had been carefully managing the rotation of trade cattle and breeding cows, continuing to turn a rare profit in spite of the drought.

Firefighters saved this shed full of hay at Alumy Creek Angus at Tenterfield. Photo by Lisa Martin.

Firefighters saved this shed full of hay at Alumy Creek Angus at Tenterfield. Photo by Lisa Martin.

"We lost carbon," he said. "A fair chunk of the ecosystem was gone overnight. I've been through fires but I was scared witless on Friday night. The wind was that intense and the smoke that thick and low. We knew flames were spotting but we couldn't see half a kilometre in front. The RFS crew did the best they could. It was a miracle we didn't lose the houses."

Guy Fawkes Station near Ebor was only just spared when Friday's wind shift guided the blaze away.

"The spot fires on Friday night were the worst as embers were thrown two to three kilometres because of the cyclonic conditions," Pamela Robison said.

When a spot fire ignited 200 metres from their home around 7pm they evacuated to the Ebor pub.

Friday was an awful one for Tenterfield, with a spark ignited near the Mount McKenzie lookout blowing to the south-east before shifting and running swiftly along the southern side of town, sending a fire fighter to hospital, claiming one home and 15 outbuildings.

An area known as Dairy Mountain between Billirimba and Scrub Roads was consumed by crowning flame, a sight not witnessed in living memory, according to cattleman David Sweeney, at Steinbrook Hall.

Alumy Creek Angus was lucky that fire crews saved their shed full of hay, which was necessary after being burned out last February. This fire took most of what remained.

Frightening pall of smoke erupts from the Guy Fawkes river gorge near Ebor. Photo by Pamela Robison.

Frightening pall of smoke erupts from the Guy Fawkes river gorge near Ebor. Photo by Pamela Robison.

"We lost carbon," he said. "A fair chunk of the ecosystem was gone overnight. I've been through fires but I was scared witless on Friday night. The wind was that intense and the smoke that thick and low. We knew flames were spotting but we couldn't see half a kilometre in front. The RFS crew did the best they could. It was a miracle we didn't lose the houses."

Guy Fawkes Station near Ebor was only just spared when Friday's wind shift guided the blaze away.

"The spot fires on Friday night were the worst as embers were thrown two to three kilometres because of the cyclonic conditions," Pamela Robison said.

When a spot fire ignited 200 metres from their home around 7pm they evacuated to the Ebor pub.

Friday was an awful one for Tenterfield, with a spark ignited near the Mount McKenzie lookout blowing to the south-east before shifting and running swiftly along the southern side of town, sending a fire fighter to hospital, claiming one home and 15 outbuildings.

An area known as Dairy Mountain between Billirimba and Scrub Roads was consumed by crowning flame, a sight not witnessed in living memory, according to cattleman David Sweeney, at Steinbrook Hall.

Alumy Creek Angus was lucky that fire crews saved their shed full of hay, which was necessary after being burned out last February. This fire took most of what remained.

"We lost carbon," he said. "A fair chunk of the ecosystem was gone overnight. I've been through fires but I was scared witless on Friday night. The wind was that intense and the smoke that thick and low. We knew flames were spotting but we couldn't see half a kilometre in front. The RFS crew did the best they could. It was a miracle we didn't lose the houses."

Guy Fawkes Station near Ebor was only just spared when Friday's wind shift guided the blaze away.

"The spot fires on Friday night were the worst as embers were thrown two to three kilometres because of the cyclonic conditions," Pamela Robison said.

When a spot fire ignited 200 metres from their home around 7pm they evacuated to the Ebor pub.

Friday was an awful one for Tenterfield, with a spark ignited near the Mount McKenzie lookout blowing to the south-east before shifting and running swiftly along the southern side of town, sending a fire fighter to hospital, claiming one home and 15 outbuildings.

An area known as Dairy Mountain between Billirimba and Scrub Roads was consumed by crowning flame, a sight not witnessed in living memory, according to cattleman David Sweeney, at Steinbrook Hall.

Alumy Creek Angus was lucky that fire crews saved their shed full of hay, which was necessary after being burned out last February. This fire took most of what remained.

Fires at Tenterfield, left, and at Long Gully near Drake, fanned in earnest on Friday under gusty and changeable winds.

Fires at Tenterfield, left, and at Long Gully near Drake, fanned in earnest on Friday under gusty and changeable winds.

Gary Pitkin was in Tenterfield when the blaze threatened and raced home, relieved to find his wife Nancy had already moved cattle out of the line of fire.

"The fire came upon us from three fronts - over the hill, where cattle had been, up the creek and along the road. Lucky for us a Townes Contracting grader was there with Allan Bulmer's water truck and RFS crews."

Mr Pitkin said his neighbour Jim Landers had been about to celebrate his 84th birthday when the fire arrived but he jumped on his tractor, with disc plough already attached, and drove laps around their house and the shed next door.

Also on Friday a fire at Long Gully, south of Drake, erupted under wind pressure and continues to burn, blackening more than 34,000ha, claiming 18 forest homes and 16 outbuildings from a community that has been previously warned about living with trees close to home.

Along the Upper Clarence south of Tabulam Richard Hart helped his parents Tony and Leanne defend their Plains Station Road property on Saturday and again on Monday when another arm of the fire paid the farm a visit.

"Embers were coming down 200 and 500 metres away, then 1.5km in front of us," he said. "The fire was jumping over the whole farm. It followed the fuel.

"West of us there was a lot of that, a lot of rough country with no cattle in it and no fuel reduction for about 20 years."

While winds lifted dust west of Armidale they also fanned a spot fire along the Walcha Road at Kentucky with Bruce Gardiner's experimental farm taking the brunt of the heat.

The retired farm planner who advocates for 70 per cent ground cover lost 20 per cent of his 40ha farm.

The grass fire stopped dead at his fence, as beyond that there never was anything left to burn.

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