Community rallies to save ponies in path of vicious fire

South Coast rescues as fire bears down on farms and villages

A community call-out for horse floats saved the day for Gary Akers and his partner Michele Wearing-Smith who had 25 welsh ponies in the direct way of a massive bushfire on the South Coast on Monday at Termeil.

A community call-out for horse floats saved the day for Gary Akers and his partner Michele Wearing-Smith who had 25 welsh ponies in the direct way of a massive bushfire on the South Coast on Monday at Termeil.


Mushroom grower praises rescue horse floats during fire


A true community effort saved the day as an out-of-control bushfire bore down on a mushroom farm and Welsh pony stud on the South Coast, as wind gusts of up to 90km/h pushed flames towards the coast.

A call went out for floats to help evacuate 25 prized Welsh ponies owned by Michele Wearing-Smith at Millise Pony Stud, that is also part of her partner Gary Akers' Shoalhaven Gourmet Mushroom farm at Termeil.

The Currowan blaze was moving fast out of the Budawang National Park and there was little time for people to help with the horse evacuation - but arrive in droves they did, as thick smoke descended on the farm, and it was soon to come under ember attack.

Gary Akers said he was flawed by how many floats turned up and 25 Welsh ponies were evacuated out of harm's way yesterday. "We got most of our horses off which was fantastic, I can't thank everyone so much," Mr Akers said. "A lot have gone up to Milton and Ulladulla and some south."

People were willing to answer the call for help to aid Mr Akers and his partner Michele in the South Coast's first bushfire crisis this season.

At times on Monday night the winds gusts were up to 80-90km/h with trees bending right over as the fire moved rapidly towards the coast. As of early Tuesday it was downgraded to watch and act, and then in the afternoon upgraded again to an emergency warning.

Mr Akers said "we are still very much on edge" and on "high alert". They had cleared an area around the house that he thinks may have helped save the farmhouse. Two older horses had stayed in a large cleared paddock and were doing okay.

Video courtesy of Gerringong Rural Fire Brigade:

As of early Tuesday, the Currowan fire was burning in an east and north-easterly direction, towards the area of Termeil, Bawley Point and Pebble Beach.

Mr Akers said Bawley Point was like a ghost town with almost everyone evacuated. He said the Rural Fire Service had done a fantastic job and there were "hundreds" of trucks fighting the fire that had already burnt out 25,000 hectares.

The southern edge of the fire was burning towards East Lynne and Benandarah. Both the Princes Highway and the King's Way between Bateman's Bay and Canberra had been closed.

Mr Akers sells gourmet white Agaricus mushrooms to leading South Coast restaurants and through supermarkets and also sells at the Farmers' Markets in Canberra where he has collected almost 1000 customers over 12 years. His mushrooms have won four Sydney Royal ribbons. He also sells to leading restaurant Bannisters at Mollymook. He had lost one crop to the fires due to smoke and now his normal route to Canberra was cut off for the moment.

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He was hoping to save one crop of mushrooms. It took up to five days to get a crop of Agaricus mushrooms. He also grows Swiss Brown, Portobello and some exotics. He was unsure when he would be able to get back into business, having lost two days sleep protecting his property and unsure where the fire would head next.

Firefighters rush to the Currowan fire.

Firefighters rush to the Currowan fire.

The RFS said the fire crossed the Princes Highway in a number of locations north of East Lynne and south of Termeil.

Evacuation Centres had been set up at Ulladulla Civic Centre - 81B Princes Highway, Ulladulla; Hanging Rock Sports Club Function Centre - Hanging Rock Place, Batemans Bay .

The Clyde River Berry farm was also under threat and its owners posted this morning: "Thank you to everyone for your messages and comments. The farm is still OK at the moment and we hope weather conditions are kind to us these next few days. It's heartwarming to know that there are so many people who care about us and our little farm in the middle of the bush. Our deepest gratitude to all the firefighting crews and friends who are helping us through."

RFS volunteers spent almost 12 hours straight defending properties at Bawley Point under ember attack from the fire.


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