Farmer relief after Berrigan fire

By Country News

Farmers who survived a massive fire near Berrigan recently are thankful their losses were not more severe.

Fire destroyed 700 sheep, 600 tonnes of grain, 150km of fencing and burned 4000ha across two Berrigan properties on Thursday, April 12.

NSW Rural Fire Service Federation Zone Captain Greyd’n Davis described the fire as ‘‘the worst I’ve seen in almost 30 years’’.

More than 130 firefighters from the federation and Mid Murray RFS zones were rushed to Kilnyana and West Kilnyana — neighbouring properties about 18km south-east of Berrigan.

Four firebombing aircraft — two fixed-wing planes and two helicopters — were required to battle the blaze.

Continuing dry conditions across the region and April’s record heat contributed to the strength of the fire.

Capt Davis said the Berrigan fire was among 25 fires fought across the region on that day.

Mt Gwynn cropping farmer Geoff Swann agreed the conditions were severe for this time of the year, with temperatures in the high 30s.

He counted himself fortunate he lost about 500ha of grass and stubble and grain stored in a silo bag, but believed it could have been a lot worse without help from friends, neighbours and the RFS.

‘‘We had fire trucks from everywhere. Even as far away as Shepparton. The RFS did a great job,’’ Mr Swann said.

‘‘Other people turned up with firefighting gear on trailers and utes. Some of them put themselves in dangerous positions.

‘‘Embers were travelling an extraordinary distance.’’

Mr Swann and his wife, Faye, wrote a note to Country News, offering thanks for the effort.

‘‘On behalf of the Swann family, we would like to thank our staff, neighbours, all volunteers and NSW Rural Fire Service who came to our rescue in fighting the fire at West Kilnyana, the Swanns wrote.

‘‘It is a credit to all to have been able to contain the fire to the area we did in the extreme conditions of the day.

‘‘Not only do we thank the people on the front line; it is also to the men and women who prepared food and brought it over for everyone. Some food was donated from Mulwala Bakery, Yarrawonga IGA, Corowa Woolworths and prepared by the Savernake and Rennie district community.

‘‘We are so thankful to the community rallying together on such a challenging day.’’

Capt Davis said the fire started about 10.30am and burned through the properties ‘‘like a freight train’’.

‘‘I’ve never seen an April day like that. It was the mix of a perfect storm and really came out of the blue,’’ he said.

‘‘The visibility was shocking, you couldn’t see in front of you from the dust and the heat was unbearable.

‘‘The crew really did an outstanding job, and I want to thank all other crews called in from across the region.

‘‘It was the biggest fire I’ve seen since the Tocumwal fires in 1990.’’

Also contributing to the difficulty were the dry conditions experienced across the region — with only 12mm of rain recorded for March at the Tocumwal Airport weather station.

Capt Davis said a lack of moisture in the ground made stopping the flames from spreading a challenge.

‘‘One of the issues for fires at this time of year is the ground is quite dry.

‘‘It was really bad on Thursday and there were about another 25 fires in the region.

‘‘At about 2pm I went up in the chopper to inspect the situation.

‘‘It wasn’t until I got up there that I could really see how bad it was and what we were dealing with.’’