Scaddan farmer calls for control change

26 Nov, 2015 01:00 AM
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AS David Vandenberghe walks from his front door across lush green lawn and manicured flower beds to the garden gate he looks around and says "you wouldn't believe it standing here would you".

It's four days since he experienced the worst fire day in the history of Esperance.

The Scaddan Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade vice captain is clearly shattered by the experience but his mind is already on the business of making things better for the future.

"Things have to change," he said.

"We as local fire brigade volunteers need to have some say in the fire control procedures of the Western Woodlands.

"It's millions of hectares of bush on our doorstep but we have no say in how it is controlled."

David's comments are in response to what he says was bureaucratic red tape which prevented them from attacking the lightning-generated fire on crown land when it first struck on Sunday, November 15.

He and many others in the district believe had they been allowed in at that early stage the story may have been very different on that fateful Tuesday.

"Our fire captains should have 50 per cent say in conjunction with DFES and DPAW on a 100 kilometre strip along the perimeter of the bush," David said.

"We should be able to do something in July, like putting in breaks and backburning.

"We don't want to clear fell, just make things safer.

"I've seen kangaroos dead standing up, emus with no feathers left, melted aluminium signs, leaves on trees frozen sideways, it's like a nuclear bomb zone.

"I know guys who spent half a day shooting injured kangaroos and emus as well as having to address their own sheep losses.

"Those volunteer firefighters at Cascade did a hell of a job ploughing and grading break lines for two days trying to stop this thing.

"They did everything they possibly could but it (the fire) just got too big and too much momentum up."

David said he believed the inability to respond to the lightning strike immediately and poor communication facilities put a lot of lives and property in jeopardy.

"There wasn't much we could do once the fire broke free but if we could have warned people it would have made a big difference," he said.

"There were still people coming up our road at 4pm when it was bearing down on us."

David said communication access was bad at the best of times due to a lack of towers and Tuesday's events highlighted how devastating and distressing an ability to talk to people could be.

"Most of us have lived here all our lives, been good taxpayers and we haven't asked for much except for a bit of water on one occasion so surely we could be provided with a few towers."

David said the first mission in the recovery process was to help those who had lost so much, while those who still had standing crop needed to get harvest finished.

"Then we need to get rid of all the burnt machinery, as much as possible of it to scrap merchants," he said.

"I don't think it makes sense to spend a lot of money digging big holes if it can be used for scrap."

David said offers for assistance had been overwhelming, particularly in his own situation.

He lost more than 1820 hectares of farmland, including a considerable amount of crop, across three properties and at least 700 of his prized Wattledale fine wool stud Merino ewes.

He also lost many of the 200 Centre Plus stud ewes, a new genetic line, which he bought from a dispersal sale last year.

Those sheep that are left have been treated by local veterinarian Enoch Bergman, Swans Veterinary Services, but have to be constantly monitored for signs of ill health.

"I've been offered replacement stud stock, genetics, trucking assistance and enough agistment to run 300,000 sheep," David said.

"People have been amazing."

David said one telling thing to come out of the whole saga was how good wool was as an insulator.

"I saw sheep with their ear tags melted on their ear that were still alive," he said.

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READER COMMENTS

EdP
26/11/2015 2:43:10 AM, on Farm Weekly

My sympathy to those affected. A disaster on many level, personal, family, business and community. Any opportunity to mix poor quality wool (low grade or discards)with flame retardant for farmers/bush fire Brigade to spread by land or air at the first sign of risk? Still brings it back to good communications though.

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