September 2017 – Pappinburra fires
In mid February the Pappinbarra valley were placed on alert with a prediction of catastrophic fires. RFS had the helicopters with water buckets on standby due to an existing fire and predictions of high temperature and strong winds expected over the weekend. Extra fire crews and trucks were brought in from afar. Warnings were issued over the radio and TV. We were notified around midday to leave our property if we were not planning on staying to defend. This was prior to the 2nd fire which stated further up the valley. Both fires joined as they came down through the valley towards Beechwood. We packed our papers, USB & iPads along with perishable food then into Port Macquarie to friends. This was all done as the temperature was soaring past 50c with wind blowing which made it feel even hotter.
Under these circumstances the crews worked very hard in extreme conditions. No human lives were lost, 8 dwellings were destroyed, farm sheds & fences melted along with people’s work gear and precious memories. 1 Horse died following major burns and 5 horses responded well to emergency treatment. Wildlife, stock and pets all suffered immeasurably. 45 homes were saved, one home was saved twice as the fires came back from the other direction with the change in weather.
A southerly change came in about 5:30pm which turned the fire back on itself. This was a great relief and helped contain the fires. The fire crews worked for a few more days dumping water on fire threats until the valley was safe again. The noise as fire trucks, water trucks, electricity & phone line repair crews came to this quiet valley was received gratefully. More than 50 power poles were replaced in the first week following the fires.
Three weeks later we had flooding with farms receiving up to one metre of rain. Roads suffered further damage as dirt, debris and roads damaged by heavy trucks pulling over to the kerb to allow other trucks to manoeuvre the narrow winding roads in the valley.
The local media covered the story with respect and assisted with getting messages out to our community as help was offered by the Wauchope community. The Showgrounds offered meals, showers & somewhere to pitch a tent or space for sleeping bags and swags. Animals were in the animal enclosure areas. Local businesses donated accommodation, meals, vouchers and support to those who were unable to return home.
The weeks and months following the fires Rebuild Pappinbarra coordinated donations and offers of assistance. This major task was done by 2 women from the community as volunteers – both have full-time work in Port Macquarie. The Port Macquarie Hasting council were not involved with rebuilding our community and apart from the immediate “photo shoot” Melinda Pavey MP failed to connect with community.
Lynda Voltz MLC requested information following concerns from residence who felt they had been left out. I offered to coordinate a visit to the area and show Lynda the damage caused by the fires along with meeting Community members. I was fortunate to have access to both Beechwood and Hollisdale community halls, coffee at Beechwood cafe and lunch at Beechwood pub. Flyers were delivered to all residents and I am confident anyone wanting to share their story with Lynda had that opportunity. Fire crews were present at Beechwood and Hollisdale, their input was taken on by Lynda.
A major part of rebuilding following the fires is replacing fencing to return stock and horses to properties damaged by fires and to get stock off the roads at night. Landholders have lost their fencing equipment. 80 Kilometres of fencing still needs repairing. The terrain is steep & heavy equipment is expensive and not covered by a lot of insurance policies.
The Day was shared with Peter Alley Port Macquarie Hastings Councillor and members of Port Macquarie Country Labor.
The Beechwood fire station had an inadequate drain at the front of the building which caused flooding inside the building during heavy rain. The fire station couldn’t be fitted out with a kitchen due to water inundation, this has been rectified following Lynda’s visit. Now fire crews can enjoy a hot cuppa and food following a call out.
Lynda Voltz has met with Troy Grant Emergency Services Minister to explore Blaze Aid assisting with replacing fences. The other possibilities are AWU & CFMEU volunteers assisting the community with rebuilding. Mark Hughes & Peter Alley have met with our newly elected Mayor Peta Pinson requesting council assistance and / or coordination of Blaze Aid.Grown & Gathered Markets are held at the Hollisdale Hall on the 1st Sunday of each month. We hope to share this area with you soon.