Fire victims miss out

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Beaufort River landholders Murray and Liz Worthington, whose property was ravaged by fire just three months after they bought it, say the criteria for classifying such events as natural disasters is unclear and does not appear to be fair when smaller areas are affected.

The mid-January fire that burnt for more than two weeks started from a lightning strike on a neighbour's property. But the blaze, which affected 70 per cent of the Worthingtons' 176ha farm and another neighbouring property, did not appear to meet natural disaster criteria because the overall area affected was not considered large.

In total, about 1000ha was burnt.

If an area is declared a natural disaster it is eligible for State and Federal assistance, including personal hardship grants, financial assistance to local government and interest rate subsidies for small businesses and primary producers directly impacted by the fire.

Mr Worthington said the fire destroyed about 10km of fencing on his property, which he estimated would cost between $40,000 and $60,000 to replace.

The Worthingtons also face further costs of about three times that amount for clearing partially burnt and fallen trees.

On top of that, the lack of fencing means the Worthingtons have been unable to proceed with plans to stock the property, which they bought last October.

Mr Worthington said he felt for people affected by the Northcliffe and Boddington fires. But he said for people affected by fires that did not spread across such a vast area, the impact on individuals was no less significant.

"Of course, many farmers in these areas would be suffering huge losses," he said.

"But I also believe it would be fair to say that as individuals, we have suffered a far greater loss than that of a number of individual property owners in the areas that are considered for natural disaster status in these bigger fires."

Despite facing crippling losses, Mr Worthington is relieved he cleared the area around his house and sheds in December, which prevented far worse damage.

The Worthingtons plan to start a 50-licence dog kennelling business, which can proceed as planned given their foresight to clear the area had saved the buildings.

They breed labradors and no animals were hurt.

Mr Worthington is also grateful to the 40 to 50 volunteers "who arrived from nowhere", many of whom stayed over the following two weeks to assist with the flare-ups.

He said the Woodanilling Shire sent front-end loaders, bulldozers and graders to fight the fire, and aerial water bombers which he claimed stopped the fire spreading further afield.

He had written to the Premier and emergency services minister to voice his concern over the criteria for natural disaster inclusion and had been advised the response was under consideration and would be received in due course.

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