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Frontline response - Sir Ivan bushfire

Dr Jillian Kelly, Team Leader Animal Biosecurity & Welfare

This article is based on my experiences on the frontline of response to the Sir Ivan Bushfire - Dunedoo to be exact – where I was based.

Local Land Services gets called into assist in these types of natural disasters, to deliver Ag and Animal Services on behalf of the NSW Department or Primary Industries. We are fortunate to have a network of dedicated staff (including vets and biosecurity officers) stationed at offices right across the state so that when disaster strikes we can swing into action.

I got the call on Sunday afternoon of that terrible windy 46°C day, to say that I would be needed at the fireground the following morning to start assessing and destroying burnt livestock.

Driving over to Coolah and then Dunedoo, the closer to the fire I got, the more real it became -  I cannot describe the blackness, the decimation of homes and farms and the stillness of what I saw  – it was almost as though the land itself was shocked into silence at what went through there the previous day.  Upon arrival I was paired up with a biosecurity officer and we were immediately sent out to farms to start the grisly job.  Talking to farmers it seemed that they were equally as shocked – most couldn’t talk about it, some cried.

Over the following week, in teams we visited every farm that had been burnt – all 55,000 ha.  We destroyed and buried what could not be saved, we created hospital mobs and cared for those that could be saved, and we consoled many grieving landholders.  We flew over the devastation searching for missing pets and livestock and assessing the damage to wildlife.  We arranged fodder and water for the survivors.

Everything seemed difficult in many circumstances – the phone towers burnt so there was little communication, power lines were down so there was no power or water to most farms, hay arrived by convoy but many farms had their machinery burnt so had no way to unload or feed the hay, others had no fences to keep the stock on the hay that they fed out.  We had to overcome many hurdles.

The demand for our services is declining as farmers come to terms with what has happened, start to deal with things themselves and other charity and relief organisations roll in to help with the recovery.

Local Land Services are still doing what we can to assist - we have some workshops happening in the fire affected area on feeding livestock over the next three months, re-establishing pastures and growing quick fodder crops.

Fire is a shattering natural disaster – it is fast, unpredictable and merciless.  It was all over for some farms in seconds, but the fire’s effects will have repercussions on the land and in the families that live there for many years.

I know that this fire didn’t affect the entire region directly, but it easily could have if there was a tiny spark in your local area on that terrible Sunday.  We see it on TV and hear it all the time but it’s important - have a bushfire plan, clean leaves and dry grass from around your home and be prepared with firebreaks and water.