Poolaijelo farming community on Victoria-SA border counts cost of New Year grassfire


Farmers in a Victorian border district have begun clearing the damage from a 7,000-hectare fire that wiped out thousands of livestock and destroyed farm infrastructure.

WARNING: This article contains images that may distress some people

The grassfire was sparked by a car at Wrattonbully in south-east South Australia about 1:30pm Friday, but did most of its damage across the border after burning out of control on to farms and through state forest.

On Sunday afternoon, emergency services downgraded the alert level as the threat to private property eased and crews worked on containment lines on the fire’s eastern boundary.

Celia Scott, a farmer at Poolaijelo in the West Wimmera, said most properties in the area were affected but to varying degrees.

Those hardest hit, she said, had “lost pretty much every blade of grass on their property”.

The grassfire took off in South Australia on New Year’s Eve.(Facebook: Daniel McRostie/CFS)

Most devastating was the loss of livestock, largely sheep, including thousands that had to be destroyed after sustaining injuries in the fire.

Ag sector counts damage

While no homes were destroyed, there was considerable damage to farm infrastructure.

“There are fence lines where there are no posts left,” Ms Scott said.

“It just burnt so hot and so fast.”

deceased sheep lie blackened on a burnt-out paddock
Thousands of sheep had to be euthanased after being caught in the fire.(Supplied)

Green Triangle Fire Alliance manager Anthony Walsh said about 800 hectares of plantation timber worth more than $10 million had been lost.

Agriculture Victoria state agency commander Banjo Patterson said officers had been out to manage welfare issues and help farmers, although the extent of the damage was not yet known.

Mr Patterson said once the assessment was completed early this week, the response would move into a recovery phase in which the department could help farmers seeking longer-term assistance to re-establish their properties.

Mobile coverage a challenge

The fire also damaged electricity infrastructure and Powercor crews worked through Sunday to restore power to the 70 properties affected.

Ms Scott said the loss of power had made it difficult to carry out urgent tasks, such as arranging people to euthanase stock, because of the district’s poor mobile coverage.

“That kind of stuff really hammers home how isolated we are and we’re not out in the middle of nowhere at Poolaijelo,” she said.

new year wimmera grassfire flames from firetruck
This shot by a CFA volunteer on New Year’s Eve captures the intensity of the flames.(Supplied: Chris Toms)

District’s worst fire since 1950s

Country Fire Authority incident controller Mark Gunning said some roads would need to remain closed while crews assessed which fire-affected trees on roadsides needed removal.

The fire burnt into the Meereek State Forest, a known habitat of the endangered south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo. Wildlife officers have been deployed to the area.

A black bird with red tail feathers sits on a branch with leaves and sky behind it
The fire into forest home to the south-eastern red-tailed black cockatoo.(Supplied: Michael Waters)

Ms Scott said the fire was the worst in the Poolaijelo and Langkoop areas since the 1950s.

“A couple of years ago we had a fairly active [fire season] with lightning strikes et cetera, but this is by far the worst one in my lifetime.

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