Linda Ryder witnessed the devastation of fire-ravaged communities first-hand after leaving the safety of her Yarroweyah home to deliver hay.
The Lions Club project, Need for Feed disaster relief, delivered 100 trucks of hay over the Australia Day long weekend; 47 to East Gippsland, 31 to Cobargo, 15 to Corryong and seven to Tumut.
After returning from Corryong on January 27, Mrs Ryder — who is the Need for Feed northern Victoria and southern NSW co-ordinator — said delivering the hay had been an emotional experience.
“At the farm we delivered to, I got the biggest bear hug — it almost squeezed the life out of me. They can't believe there's so many generous people out there,” she said.
The Need for Feed committee receives requests for assistance via its website.
“We look for the hardest hit areas and that’s where we went,” Mrs Ryder said.
“I've just been onto a farm that their whole house was surrounded by fire, and the hills on both sides.
“The fire came through their property — it was the most beautiful old building — and it was saved by sprinklers on the house.
“They said that the roar was horrific and it came through so fast, so high, it was all over in 20 minutes.”
Need for Feed chairman and founder Graham Cockerell said everyone worked together to get the job done, including police and Army reservists.
“Some of the Gippsland and (NSW) south coast fires are still burning, so we need to be going back for at least three more months,” Mr Cockerell said.
“If they don't get a good autumn break of rain, it will probably be longer.
“A lot of them are dairy farmers and they can't sell off their stock and change their whole operation.”
Mr Cockerell said after arriving in Cobargo, people emptied out of the pub, yelling, clapping and cheering.
“Cobargo is the hardest hit area I've seen,” he said.
“The damage is more severe, there's shops and houses burnt down in the main street, all of the roads to the dairy farms are burnt down and there's people living in caravans in the recovery centre.”
Mr Cockerell said a lot more work would need to be done, especially in Tumut.
Need for Feed received a further 100 requests for assistance just two days after returning from the Australia Day convoy.
Need for Feed is run entirely by unpaid volunteers.
For more information, visit: http://www.needforfeed.org/