Locals go all out to help farmer after fire

Toby HusseyCountryman
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After flames reduced his Kojonup paddock to ash earlier this month, Kojonup farmer Rob Warburton said he was lucky to escape with only a burnt hand.

The sudden blaze began on January 2, when 28C temperatures, strong winds and a suspected machinery fire combined to create what Mr Warburton later called “a perfect storm”.

The fire burnt through more than 2km, destroying everything in its path.

Mr Warburton called it one of the most devastating fires on his farm, after it consumed the barley crop and two headers, tractors, a bag loader and a chaser bin.

No livestock was lost but Mr Warburton said for a short time he felt he could be in a lot of trouble.

The burnt-out header.
Camera IconThe burnt-out header.
Source of was traced to a header.
Camera IconSource of was traced to a header.

“We were just harvesting away and ... I looked in the rear-vision mirror and noticed smoke and flames,” he said.

“I grabbed a fire extinguisher and started squirting onto the fire in the header ... (but) I could already see I’d lit up 30 or 40m behind me.”

Mr Warburton then jumped into emergency mode.

First he ensured wife Jen was out of danger, then he scrambled to keep the blaze contained.

However, soon it became apparent recovery attempts would be futile.

Barley is a highly flammable crop and entire fields can be aflame within minutes of the first sparks.

“It was all happening very quickly,” Mr Warburton said.

“I just drove around the outside of the fire, I made sure Jen was safe and I started trying to control (the fire) — it was already pretty huge.”

With the fire out of control, as many as 100 neighbours turned up to help.

Using scores of fire extinguishers, the flames were eventually subdued and completely put out the next day. However, not before the blaze had destroyed fences, machinery and the crop.

In the aftermath Mr Warburton conceded the safest act would have been to stand back and let the fire burn, but she said he had to try protect his neighbours.

“It’s just adrenaline ... really what I should have done is walked into the wind and walked away, that would have been the best thing to do,” he said.

“(But) you want to stop the fire, you don’t want it to burn your neighbours out.”

Neighbours returned over the next few days to help repair fences to ensure livestock could not escape.

Online, Mr Warburton thanked his community for their support.

“We had the most amazing support from the whole community both during and after the fire,” he said.

“Thank you to the wider community and services, both for the support on the day and all the people who’ve rung, cooked food and texted since.”

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