PICKING UP THE PIECES
Farmer, 69, who battled fire with his bare hands, starts the long road to recovery c
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.”
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.
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.
Fire damage between Finch Hatton and Netherdale.
Damage to the cane farm shed caused by the blaze.