Farmer reflects on fire

Charred: Jamie Milling and daughters Fenella and Annabel after the fire. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE
Charred: Jamie Milling and daughters Fenella and Annabel after the fire. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

It’s been a year since the Sir Ivan Bushfire ripped through the Dunedoo, Cassilis and Leadville areas.

The February 2017 fire tore through 55,000 hectares of farm land, destroying 30 homes and burning nearly 6000 kilometres of fencing.

The blaze killed 2000 sheep, 56 cattle, 90 goats and 36 poultry.

Support for the communities and its landholders since that weekend has been continuous, with much of the volunteer efforts coming from charity organisation Blaze Aid.

Leadville farmer Jamie Milling and his family were victims of the fire, and lost 43km of fencing, but thankfully all their livestock was spared.

Mr Milling and his daughters Fenella and Annabel watched from their kitchen window as smoke bellowed from beyond the mountains on the Saturday. 

“We didn’t get burned out until about Sunday arvo. It was very scary,” he said.

Mr Milling stayed home to defend his property.

“There was no communication because the towers were burnt so all you could see was flames and smoke. I don’t know how someone wasn’t killed,” he said.

The day after the fire Mr Milling said he sat on the ground and asked himself: “how the hell am I going to rebuild?”.

“I couldn’t get my head around how we were going to recover,” he said.

FIRE: Jamie Milling and daughters Fenella and Annabel are fortunate after the Sir Ivan Fire. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

FIRE: Jamie Milling and daughters Fenella and Annabel are fortunate after the Sir Ivan Fire. Photo: BELINDA SOOLE

Mr Milling said Blaze Aid came in to help him pull fences down and rebuild.

“If it wasn’t for Blaze Aid I don’t think we’d even be halfway through now,” he said.

“When Blaze Aid came in.. it was a remarkable effort...day by day they gave you faith. I was sad to see them all go.”

For months there has support, either through financial donations, hay donations, food, appliances and much more.

“All local businesses helped, and St Vincent’s, the Salvation Army, the Department of Primary Industries, Local Land Services… and all of the hay drivers,” he said.

Mr Milling said he was also humbled by NSW Farmers’ Merriwa Branch and the Merriwa Show Association, who raised a total of $915,345.91 for the affected communities.

“And Laurie (Blaze Aid Dunedoo camp coordinator) did an excellent job at co-ordinating those fencing materials to be evenly distributed… he’s one of the nicest guys you could ever possibly meet,” he said.

While it may be almost a year since the fire tore through, Mr Milling said the effects can still be seen, especially to the native flora and fauna.

“A lot of the agronomists are saying it will take a while before the country can recover…,” he said.

Mr Milling said there has been little rainfall since the fire.

“In our area we received 10 to 12 inches of rain in 2017,” he said.

“So many people didn’t have a harvest.”

Mr Milling said the country has gone very quiet as many birds haven’t returned to the area.

Mr Milling said while he still has fences to build and he is waiting on insurance to fix the front of his front garden the “memory of the fire is still around visually.”

“A lot of people (who travel through the area) are surprised.. but we’re all getting there and putting in new pastures,” he said.

“And the supports still there… so we haven’t been forgotten.”

Honouring the volunteers: Blazeaid Dunedoo co-ordinator Laurie Dawson. Photo: ELOUISE HAWKEY

Honouring the volunteers: Blazeaid Dunedoo co-ordinator Laurie Dawson. Photo: ELOUISE HAWKEY

On the final day that Blaze Aid down people within the communities had a thank you party for them.

“All of the people in the fire zone affected areas were wondering how we could repay them, and Laurie,” Mr Milling said.

“We agreed to all throw in money so we bought him a 4W Gator Utility.”

Mr Milling said the gift wasn’t much compared to what Laurie did for everyone, but was a token for all of his great efforts.

“He’s a legend,” Mr Milling said.

Mr Milling couldn’t thank Blaze Aid enough for all of their support, plus the generosity of local businesses, the LLS, DPI, the CWA, St Vencent’s De Paul, Salvation Army, the local Pony Club, all organisations and individuals who raised funds and donated, plus the generosity of the peopel on the hay runs.

The total number of Blaze Aid volunteers from February, 27 to September, 22, 2017 at the Dunedoo and Cassilis base camps was 1289.

The total number of days volunteered was 11,551.

The volunteers helped 110 properties, cleared 853 kilometrs of fences and built 931km of new fences.