Grazing land damaged by fire

Claire TyrrellCountryman
The West logo

Pastoralists have renewed calls for parts of the Gascoyne to be declared a natural disaster zone, after fires burnt through more than 672,000 hectares.

Almost half of the total area, 302,000 hectares, was burnt in the past week - lightning strikes on January 19 started seven new blazes.

The original fire, which is still burning, started on December 27.

Recovery efforts launched last week were thwarted when fires broke through containment lines on Friday.

Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) public information officer Kym Pearce said the blaze intensified after lightning strikes.

"Since January 19 lightning strikes started seven new fires, which combined into three main fires," she said.

"Thunderstorms and strong wind gusts have made parts of the fire inaccessible, but containment lines have been built around active fires."

At least a dozen stations have been affected by the fires and one pastoralist reported a 90 per cent loss of grazing land.

Doorawarrah station owner David Robinson battled blazes on his property early this week.

"The fire has burnt through about 60 per cent of our property at this stage. It is mainly rangelands pasture and a lot of fences," he said.

"Most of our cattle would have survived the fire and we have still got about 40 per cent of our feed. If we lost all of our feed, like some stations have, that would be a great loss."

Pastoralist and Graziers Association (PGA) president Rob Gillam called on the State Government to immediately devote more resources to the fires.

Mr Gillam has also demanded the Government declare the area a natural disaster zone so affected pastoralists can access support measures.

"These fires have been raging since Christmas, and unless the State Government increases the number of fire crews and equipment, it will continue for many weeks to come," he said.

Acting WA Environment Minister John Day said sufficient resources had been deployed to fight the fires.

"Total resources involved in the Carnarvon complex include more than 150 personnel," he said.

"Pastoralists are also very active in fire suppression and planning. Equipment includes more than 20 firefighting appliances, 15 earthmoving machines, two bulk water tankers, one fixed wing aircraft, two helicopters and one water bomber.

"It is not considered necessary to bring in firefighters from other States at this stage, however, the DEC will continue to monitor the situation."

The State Government is yet to decide whether the area should be declared a natural disaster zone.

North West MLA Vince Catania this week joined the PGA's call for the area to be declared a natural disaster zone. "This would allow immediate relief for pastoralists looking to rebuild," he said. "We need the Government to make a decision."

Mr Catania announced on Tuesday that affected pastoralists could apply to the State Government for rent assistance. "In the event of a drought, flood or fire, there is the ability for pastoralists to seek rent relief," he said.

Carnarvon Shire president Karl Brandenburg said the sheer scale of the fires should qualify the event as a natural disaster.

"By the time it has finished burning, it will be the size of Tasmania," he said. "Some fronts are 120km long and it's impossible to put them out with the winds behind them."

Mr Brandenburg said the fires had already caused "immeasurable damage to feed and stock".

WA Emergency Services Minister Troy Buswell said for an area to be declared a natural disaster zone, $240,000 worth of damage to public infrastructure must be proven.

"If there are high portions of damage to private infrastructure, it is likely there is a situation where major public infrastructure would also be affected, such as in the Toodyay, Kelmscott-Roleystone and Margaret River fires," he said.

"The State Government will not make a pre-commitment to any hypothesised damage, it will be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

Clean-up efforts started in northern parts of the Gascoyne this week, as pastoralists in the south continued to battle the blaze.

Government-appointed recovery co-ordinator Tom Day said damage assessments had been conducted on some northern stations. "We haven't been able to get too far advanced at this stage, but we've looked at some stations where up to 90 per cent of grazing land has burnt," he said.

Mr Day agreed the area should be declared a natural disaster zone, but said it could prove to be difficult.

"There's been a lot of damage to private property, including pastures, fences and water sources," he said.

"There is also a bit of damage to roads, and in my opinion that should be included as public infrastructure."

Department of Agriculture and Food officers are also assisting affected pastoralists by co-ordinating the provision of water for stock.

On Tuesday, a fire watch and act alert was issued for Edaggee, Marron, Wahroonga and Callagiddy stations and North West Coastal Highway was closed between Carnarvon and the Overlander Roadhouse.

About 30 Carnarvon residents attended a community meeting on Monday night, where they were reassured the townsite was a safe distance from the fires.

Fire boundary *

Fire boundary, shown by the black outline, as at 9.40am on January 24.

Source: Department of Environment and Conservation

Get the latest news from in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails