PICK­ING UP THE PIECES

Farmer, 69, who bat­tled fire with his bare hands, starts the long road to re­cov­ery c

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - GE­ORDI OF­FORD Ge­ordi.of­[email protected]­ral­weekly.com.au

AS THE 300-foot flames rapidly tore through his prop­erty, cane farmer Burnie Ward took them on with his bare hands.

With no help from fire­fight­ers, Mr Ward fought the blaze with buck­ets of wa­ter from their dam, as his wife Laraine watched on in fear and de­scribed it as “hell on Earth”.

The cou­ple are now busy sort­ing through in­sur­ance and ar­rang­ing ma­chin­ery to clean up their charred land.

“We’ve got to re­place a power pole, so we can get power back to the house,” Mr Ward said.

“I’ve also go to re­place the mo­tor on the ir­ri­ga­tor be­cause it was dam­aged.

“When the flames are com­ing in fast you can’t move ev­ery­thing, so I’m hop­ing in­sur­ance cov­ers it.”

He said said it was hard for them to be­gin the clean-up on their Finch Hat­ton prop­erty.

“There’s not a lot we can do at the mo­ment,” he said.

“We have our son-in-law com­ing to dig a trench for the power and also clear a bit of stuff for us with his ex­ca­va­tor.”

With no elec­tric­ity, the cou­ple have had to rely on gen­er­a­tors.

“We have the fridge and freez­ers go­ing, and we can also power the TV and a pedestal fan,” Mr Ward said.

“We’ve also got to bring buck­ets of wa­ter to the house be­cause with­out power we’ve got no wa­ter.”

The cou­ple said the cleanup they have done so far had been messy.

“I’m 69 and have been here all my life and this has never, ever hap­pened be­fore and we hope it doesn’t hap­pen again,” Mr Ward said.

“There’s a lot of soot, ev­ery­thing you touch, your hands just turn black.”

He said they lost their en­tire crop on their 54hectare home prop­erty.

“We have an­other 40-hectare block about half a kilo­me­tre over the creek where our son Dar­ren lives,” he said.

“When the fire was burn­ing here we had to move our ma­chin­ery there, but then that place started burn­ing.

“Only 10 hectares of that one burnt; thank­fully it didn’t de­stroy that whole crop.

“But the cane has started to shoot up again.”

Mr Ward said the cou­ple was re­ceiv­ing help from Cane­grow­ers.

“We’re go­ing to have to put chem­i­cal down to stop the weeds from com­ing up,” he said.

“There’s just noth­ing in the ground to keep them down, so I think they’re pro­vid­ing that and com­ing out to tell us what we need to use.”

He said rain would be the best way to help the cane re­cover.

In an in­ter­view with Ru­ral Weekly after the fires struck on Wed­nes­day last week, Mr Ward said he “had a few close calls”.

“We were try­ing to save the shed be­cause if it caught fire, so would the house. It’s only three me­tres away,” he said.

“I heard petrol drums ex­plod­ing but I didn’t take much no­tice of them.

“We’re just thank­ful we’re still here and have our lives.”

SUP­PORT

AN ES­TI­MATED 800 hectares of sug­ar­cane crops were burned in the Pi­o­neer Val­ley and Blue Moun­tain ar­eas near Mackay and at Carmila near Sa­rina. Most of the cane was ei­ther new growth in ra­toon crops which had been har­vested in 2018 or new plant cane crops.

Cane­grow­ers chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Dan Gal­li­gan said mem­bers were cov­ered by a crop in­sur­ance scheme as part of their an­nual levy and af­fected grow­ers were urged to re­port dam­age to their lo­cal of­fice.

“The fires mean weeks or months of growth to­ward the 2019 crop has been lost and only time will tell if the cane plant roots, known as the stool, have sur­vived the in­tense heat,” Mr Gal­li­gan said. “This has been a long, tir­ing and trau­matic week in our state and the dan­ger has not yet passed with fires still caus­ing con­cern and the fore­cast pre­dict­ing dry thun­der­storms and the like­li­hood of light­ning in some ar­eas.”

SUF­FER­ING: Burnie crop in Ward lost his fires that tore sug­ar­cane through his prop­erty.

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

A SAD SIGHT: Burnie Ward lost his en­tire sug­ar­cane crop in fires that tore through his Finch Hat­ton farm.

Mrs Ward said there was a lot of dam­age on the prop­erty caused by the fires.

Burnt ma­chin­ery on the Wards’ prop­erty.

PHOTO: EMMA MUR­RAY

Fire dam­age be­tween Finch Hat­ton and Netherdale.

Dam­age to the cane farm shed caused by the blaze.

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