On Thursday 4th February, the Member for MacKillop, Nick McBride MP, spoke in Parliament about the Blackford fire ..
I rise today to pay tribute and to say thank you to the many hundreds of men and women from the CFS, volunteers, farm firefighting units, agencies, local councils and the communities of Avenue Range and Lucindale for their tireless work during and following the recent Blackford fire.
The day of the fire, Monday 11 January, was extremely hot and windy. Just before 1pm, a fire, which has since been deemed unsuspicious, broke out in the Avenue Range area. The fire was frighteningly close to the scene of last year's devastating Keilira fire, which destroyed more than 25,000 hectares, a home, infrastructure and a great many stock. By midafternoon, conditions had worsened. Fanned by strong winds, the fire front was 32 kilometres long and was just 10 kilometres from Avenue Range and 12 kilometres from the Lucindale township.
CFS crews were mobilised from across the state and Victoria: 200 were on the ground while six aircraft set about protecting assets. Over the course of the afternoon, the aerial bombers undertook more than 100 water and retardant drops. The Jacky White drain, a man-made earthen drain, acted as an effective firebreak. Its position north of Avenue Range running in a north-westerly direction meant that when the wind changed the fire hit the drain, slowing the potential fire front. The CFS reported that the drain prevented the tripling of the 14,000 hectares eventually impacted.
It was not only the drain that helped. Centre pivots with green feed were another barrier to halt the spread of the flames. They helped to split the fire into two distinctive fronts before it reached the town of Lucindale. Although the fire came to the very edge of the township of Lucindale, it was well defended by the combined efforts of the ground and aerial firefighting teams.
The losses associated with the fire are substantial. Heartbreakingly, the fire engulfed the home of Neill and Chris Watts. It also destroyed the old general store at Avenue, the historic church and old school building. The fire also burned countless tonnes of stock feed, sheds and 400 kilometres of fencing, and impacted at least 70 landowners in one way or another. More than 7,500 sheep were killed as a result of this fire.
I am led to believe that between 600 and 800 cattle were destroyed on the spot, in paddocks or in nearby yards, and that another 600 to 1,200 cattle had to be sent to market because they were slightly damaged and could make the trip on a truck to then be slaughtered for some use. Important long-term breeding programs for sheep and stud cattle were impacted.
There is no doubt the road to recovery, both mentally and economically, will be a long one. Quick work after the fire by neighbours, PIRSA staff and local vets helped to dispose of and account for impacted stock. This is a terrible job and one which a farmer should not have to do. I am thankful for the work of the neighbours and PIRSA staff who acted so swiftly and humanely.
As is typical in rural communities, the response to this disaster has again been extraordinary; our community is truly generous. In the days following the fire, donations started flooding in, coordinated by the Lions Club and Naracoorte Lucindale Council and Kingston District Council. All have committed to deliver the services required as the recovery effort gets underway.
The Mount Gambier hay run organised by Adam Smith, which last year delivered nearly 70 loads of hay to those affected by the Keilira fire, has continued its good work. On Saturday 16 January, a huge convoy of semis rolled into Lucindale carrying more than 3,000 bales of donated hay. This support is invaluable in helping impacted landholders. BlazeAid has also mobilised and now set up camp at Lucindale, where it will stay for the coming months. Teams have now begun removing and rebuilding hundreds of kilometres of damaged fencing. I wish to thank all those who have volunteered or will volunteer for BlazeAid.
A charity auction is being held at the Lucindale Country Club this Saturday night. More than $90,000 worth of goods and services has been donated. The proceeds will go to the families who have been impacted by the fire. Thank you to our volunteers. Over 400 gave up their time to either fight or mop up after the Blackford fire. Roughly 80 per cent of the land that was burnt was owned by CFS volunteers. Collectively, they put in many thousands of hours of their time. In closing, this fire, while devastating, could have been much worse. No lives were lost, and I know that the spirit of the community will spur on its recovery.