Woolooga bushfire recovery boosted by volunteers helping ease farmers' heartache
- October 11, 2018
Originally published on ABC 11 October 2018
Three weeks after terrifying fires ripped through a tiny Queensland community, the spirits of devastated farmers are being lifted by the fact so many people care about their fate.
More than 12,000 hectares of pasture and hundreds of thousands of dollars of fencing, sheds and livestock were lost in the blaze that left locals marvelling that no lives were lost in rural Woolooga, north-west of Gympie.
"We just got wiped out. All the grass is gone, we lost three sheds, all our stockyards, fencing, everything," Phil Bedford, 83, said.
"We're just lucky we saved our house and our lives I suppose."
The shell-shocked grazier is pushing through his pain to work in his blackened paddocks, using a crutch to take the load off two dodgy knees.
But thanks to BlazeAid volunteers and the generosity of the local community, the aged pensioner is not facing the aftermath of the fire alone.
Mr Bedford's voice choked as he described the physical and emotional support he had received from volunteers who were helping cut and wind up burnt barbed wire and wooden posts.
"It just means everything, they're just wonderful," he said as tears welled in his eyes.
"You know you get down and out and then they come along. There's so many good people around."
Damage costs add up
Terry Rauchle estimated the fires had caused more than half a million dollars damage to his 1,618 hectare property, with just 20 hectares of pasture surviving the blaze untouched.
At least 12 head of stock were killed and 60 animals are still missing.
"We're just hanging on, hoping we get some fences up, a bit more rain," Mr Rauchle said.
He sold 200 cattle at Toogoolawah last week and is spending $700 dollars a day to feed the 700 he has left.
"Flames 12-foot high were coming over the ridges for 2 or 3 kilometres in a big line and the wind was chopping and changing at a speed I wouldn't know," he said.
Clark McGhie's Wild Country filmed on Mr Rauchle's property as the ridges were engulfed by a wall of fire, destroying a century-old cattle yard.
"I don't think we will recover from it but we've just got to battle on," he said.
Volunteers help with range of issues
From donations of hay to help rebuilding fences and lending a sympathetic ear, the volunteers are making a physical and emotional difference to the community.
Wrestling with the remains of burnt-out barbed wire fences, Tasmanian traveller Bev Murphy is one of the BlazeAid volunteers helping with the recovery effort.
"I was here [in Queensland] when the fires happened and I've done BlazeAid quite a few times before, and I said to the family I'm going to go again," Ms Murphy said.
"It's good fun working with the volunteers and you get to meet some really lovely folk, farming folk."
'Fiercest fire I've seen'
Local landowner and property manager Dave Golding was volunteering with the Woolooga rural fire brigade as the flames threatened his own home.
"In the 15 years I've been in the rural brigade that's the fiercest fire I've seen, it was horrific," he said.
"It was fortunate we didn't lose any houses. Might have been some divine intervention."
Mr Golding and his crew had to shelter in a shed for 15 minutes as fire whipped winds and sent embers flying horizontally at them.
"The unfortunate part was I was off elsewhere saving other people's places and my wife was here on her own trying to manage our stock and the stock on the properties we manage as well," he said.
"On our property we've been lucky, only 2 kilometres of fencing was completely destroyed and probably another 1.5km was damaged.
"On the properties we manage next door there's probably close to 20 kilometres of fencing that we've lost, and the help of volunteers is greatly appreciated."
Fodder difficult to source because of drought
More than 70 millimetres of rain has helped green shoots of grass break through black landscapes.
But graziers are quickly cutting through generous donations of hay from the community because they cannot let stock damage the tender new growth.
Improved pasture seed is selling for as much as $400 a bag.
Resident Kayleen Moss renewed the call for help to assist locals she said were less fortunate than her.
"People have been more than generous, but these people out here have got so many costs with fencing and feeding," she said.
"We're just trying to help them along a bit and subsidise it a bit so the cost is not as great."
Tom Grady Rural Merchandise has been coordinating the hay drive, but fodder has been difficult to source because of the drought.
"Hopefully everybody will be able to give a little bit and that will help," Ms Moss said.
"Months and months of recovery lie ahead."
Extra help always welcome
BlazeAid has set up its base camp at the Lower Wonga hall where the recovery effort is being coordinated by Paul and Val Forgeard.
The couple is proud of the work more than two dozen volunteers are doing, but said extra hands would be welcome.
"We pretty well offer to do just about anything," Mr Forgeard said.
"A couple of ladies might go to help someone who is trying to clean all the smoke stuff out of the house, but we mainly do fencing.
"We clean up all the lines, so the contractors might come in to do it, or we actually rebuild the fences.
"If people need a hand to buy materials we can help with that too."
But just 20 of the dozens of local landholders affected have asked for help.
"Any farmers who want help have got to come to us, we can't go to them," Mr Forgeard stressed, encouraging farmers to come forward.
New volunteers learn on the job from those who have helped out before.
"Yesterday I had a great time yarning with a farmer who's not a very well man, and we sat down and we had a cup of tea together sitting out on the veranda and we told lies for a good two or three hours," the former drover laughed.
"So those sort of things help too."