$150m lost to Esperance fire, wind

Brad Thompson and Gabrielle KnowlesThe West Australian
Esperance Fires - One of the homes destroyed by fire in Scaddan.
Camera IconEsperance Fires - One of the homes destroyed by fire in Scaddan. Credit: Danella Bevis / The West Australian

The deadly fires and freak winds that hit farms around Esperance have left a $150 million hole in what was shaping as a record harvest for the region.

Farmers slowly getting back to work over the past few days have found the gusty 100km/h winds that fanned the flames took a huge toll on what remains of their crops.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night told Parliament the deaths of four people in the bushfire was a tragedy.

He also praised the service and bravery of firefighters who helped battle the Esperance blaze and kept their communities safe.

The latest estimate is that 500,000 tonnes of grain was destroyed by fire or wind in a devastating blow for the local economy.

Growers had been expected to deliver more than three million tonnes of grain to Co-operative Bulk Handling for export from Esperance.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA monitoring suggests more than 4600 sheep were lost and about 30,000ha of harvest-ready crops destroyed by fire.

CBH zone manager Mick Daw said the wind had caused “two to three times” more crop damage than the fires.

“Guys that have got back on the header have found four tonne (per hectare) barley crops are now two tonne,” he said. “The wind dropped it all on the ground. There has been an enormous amount of grain lost due to the strength of the wind that day.

“Any barley left is quite badly damaged and wheat to a lesser extent.”

Lightning sparked more fires yesterday, but the thunderstorms also brought rain to some areas.

The latest outbreaks were contained by late yesterday and firefighters continued to gain the upper hand on the three fires that have been burning for more than a week.

In Scaddan, where four people died in the fires, the community gathered at their partly burnt-out country club on Sunday night in a show of strength.

Linda Campbell, who lost three employees from Europe and farming neighbour Kym Curnow in the blaze, said the gathering was an opportunity to share stories and catch up with friends for the first time since the tragedies.

“A few people said a few words,” she said.

“There were lots of hugs and tears. It was very healing, particularly for the men.”

Families of the fire victims will be given condolence books where friends and community members have been sharing their memories and messages of support.

As relatives of Briton Tom Butcher and Norwegian Anna Winther prepared to fly to WA to see where their loved ones died, Esperance shire president Victoria Brown said she believed the condolence books would help the families.

"To lose one of our long-time locals is hard enough, and to lose a loved one in a foreign country must be heartbreakingly difficult," she said.

The condolence books, with photographs of Mr Curnow, Mr Butcher, Ms Winther and German teenager Julia Kohrs-Lichte, are at the Esperance civic centre.

CBH is taking donations of grain from the rest of the WA farming community to help raise funds for growers who in some cases have lost everything.

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