Victorian farmers are counting the cost of devastating grassfires that swept across large parts of the state’s southwest at the weekend, destroying 18 farmhouses, dozens of shearing sheds, haystacks and outbuildings, and killing hundreds of cattle and sheep.
More than 200 firefighters, assisted by cooler weather and light rain, spent yesterday containing the last of the four firefronts around Cobden, Terang, Woolsthorpe and Simpson, clearing fallen trees and powerlines from roads and mopping up spot fires on the 15,000ha of burnt farmland.
Attention is now focused on the 211 mainly dairy farms directly affected by the fires, where many cattle have already died and hundreds more are expected to be shot over the next two days.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said teams of vets and agriculture officers were starting to visit farms to identify cattle and sheep that needed to be put down because of burnt hoofs and damaged lungs and airways.
Local councils were yesterday digging pits where dead livestock could be buried and the army has supplied dozens of diesel generators so dairy farmers can milk cows on properties still without power and keep the milk cool until trucks can collect it.
Ms Pulford said areas such as Terang, Cobden and Simpson were the heartland — and highest producing region — of Australia’s dairy industry, where green grass and frequent rain was much more common than grassfires.
But nearly six weeks without rain had turned Victoria’s southwest extremely dry, creating a horror night last Saturday when strong hot winds combined with lightning strikes to cause what Premier Daniel Andrews called an “unprecedented fire event” for the normally lush region.
Surveying the damage around Cobden yesterday, Mr Andrews said it was remarkable there had been no deaths or serious injuries from the fast-moving fires.
“Talking to a 40-year veteran, he made a point he had never seen a fire like it,” Mr Andrews said, thanking Country Fire Authority volunteers from around the state for their service. “It was the hardest work he had ever done; to have a fire running all night …”
Mr Andrews announced hardship payments of up $540 an adult and $270 per child for those directly affected by the fires and up to $40,700 for families who have lost their homes, but pointed out the fires could have been worse.
“The losses could be much more significant and ultimately, there are no funerals to go to,” the Premier said.
“That is the most important thing when it comes to a fire like this.”
Beef farmer Brad Gilmour came home on Saturday night to see his 1000ha family farm southeast of Terang already ablaze. But remarkably the homestead was still standing with just singed veranda posts.
But almost every fence on the farm was destroyed, more than half the property’s paddocks were burnt to ash, the woolshed and 300 bales of hay were gone and some of his 700 cattle were dead.
Mr Gilmour feared more of his angus beef cattle and young dairy heifers would have to be shot in the next few days, once he could rebuild enough fencing around his surviving set of steel yards to enable a veterinary inspection.
But he was grateful for donations of hay and grain for his surviving cattle.
His family was safe and, unlike three of his neighbours, the house where they have lived for 30 years survived the fire.
“I’m tired and it is emotional; once you stop working and take time to look around, you can’t help thinking what a massive undertaking it will be to get back to where we were,” Mr Gilmour said.
“I know we will lose more cattle but then I’m hearing about some who have lost their entire herds.”
By: Sue Neales and Richard Ferguson
Source: The Australian