HEARTBREAK: The forgotten cost of bushfires

Dead stock on a property near Jugiong in NSW. Photo: JAY CRONAN James Douglas (front) and his dad, Les, stand in the burnt land of their Big Springs property. Picture: Oscar Colman

Farmers have taken a financial and emotional hit from the bushfires ravaging NSW, with livestock losses potentially into the tens of thousands.

A NSW Department of Primary Industries spokesperson said initial figures pointed to a loss of 10,000 animals, most of which are sheep.

However, it will be some time before the final figures are known and the damage bill is tallied.

Farmer James Douglas suffered significant losses when fire hit his Waverly Run property near Big Springs, south of Wagga Wagga, on Saturday night.

With the help of his wife Jacinda, Mr Douglas filled and hooked a water tanker to his ute and drove towards the fire in a desperate attempt to save the 5000 sheep on the property.

“I went to save a mob of sheep but I had to leave them behind – I couldn’t believe how fast the fire was,” Mr Douglas said.

“The flames were only five metres away from me.”

By Sunday, 1100 sheep, valued at $110,000, were dead. However that number is expected to rise, with many sheep unable to walk because of burns to their feet.

Mr Douglas and his father, Les, have had the heartbreaking task of killing all the injured sheep.

Both described the horror of about 500 of the animals pushed up against each other at a fence, blackened and “barbecued” as they became stuck when the fire closed in.

WIRES volunteer Storm Stanfordsaid high temperatures and humidity led to the death of many animals.

“Yesterday we lost over one thousand flying foxes at a camp at Bomaderry Creek in Nowra,” she said. “Most of the flying foxes were nursing babies and the heat and humidity just proved too much.”

Volunteers were able to rescue some of the baby flying foxes and sent them toSydney for care.

NSW Farmers Association policy director Angus Gidley-Baird said that with fires still burning across the state, the true impact on livestockmay not be known for weeks.

He said that many members are part of their local NSW Rural Fire Service and still hadn’t had a chance to get back to their farms to properly survey the damage.

“The real trauma and stress will hit when farmers get a chance to go back to their properties, count how much livestock and feed they lost, how much fencing they lost and how much crop they need tore-sow” Mr Gidley-Baird said.

He stressed that while the NSW RFS had done a brilliant job battling fires, the damage done would be an issue for farmers for months to come.

“People need to remember that while the fires are only in the media for a couple of days, the heartache and recovery for those affected will be a yearlong process,” Mr Gidley-Baird said.

“That said, most farmers are pretty resilient. They are tough people and they will find a way to get through this.’’

NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, who is the state MP for the fire-ravaged area near Yass, said many sheep were injured in addition to the 10,000 believed killed.

“If you have one injured by fire, they have to be destroyed and that is one of the most heartbreaking things a farmer has to do as part of his job,” she said.

Fires in NSW have consumed 131,000 hectares of land so far.

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