Dozens unite to help farmers impacted by Keilira blaze

Briony Schleuniger  TBW Newsgroup

Max Schleuniger (2) TBW Newsgroup
ON THE JOB: Limestone Coast resident Max Schleuniger and his wife Briony are currently volunteering with BlazeAid efforts on the Keilira fireground. The Schelunigers said they once had a property affected by a bushfire and knew how tough the rebuilding process was for property owners.

ALMOST 50 volunteers have joined forces at the Keilira BlazeAid basecamp in Kingston to support local properties owners rebuild after last year’s bushfire.

Started by dry lightning on December 30, the Keilira bushfire was the largest blaze in the Limestone Coast since Ash Wednesday in 1983.

The fire tore through 25,000ha of land with a fireground perimeter of 76km.

This included 20 properties, three houses, 2000 bales of hay, more than 3400 head of livestock and over 400km of fencing.

Although primary producer have a long road ahead of them, BlazeAid volunteers have been on deck since January 25 to help remove and rebuild fences.

In less than two weeks of work, volunteers have cleared 64km of fencing with around 5km now rebuilt.

Keilira BlazeAid coordinator Mary Howarth said there were high spirits around the camp since it opened.

“Work started off a bit slow, but things have picked up and we are currently working at seven of the 14 registered properties,” she said.

“Everyone is loving getting out there and doing their bit and the property owners are loving the help.

“I think people in the area maybe did not know what BlazeAid was about to begin with, but now they have a better idea they are really getting on board.”

Working on a property along Bin Bin Road on Wednesday, Limestone Coast residents Max and Briony Schleuniger said the disaster hit closer to home.

The couple said they had previously been through a similar situation, with a fire destroying around half of their property.

“Only a couple of properties were impacted during that fire, so we did not have something like BlazeAid to help out,” Mr Schleuniger

“But we had the community get together and lend a hand and that is really important for farmers after the danger has passed.

“The fire might be over but they have a huge process ahead of them.

“Walking out and seeing scorched earth and dead livestock is really overwhelming for them, I think easing that burden just a little bit is the least we can do.”

The Schleunigers have been working in a group of five, with Goolwa couple Rick and Anthea Williams and group leader Stephen Maxwell.

During their lunch break, the group shared stories they had been told by property owners throughout their time with BlazeAid.

Mr Maxwell said he had spoken to one dairy farmer 18 months ago at another camp who said he lost 500 of his 700 head herd but was still expected to meet his milking quota the next day, while Ms Schleuniger said she had spoken to a property owner on Wednesday morning who had spent 18 years getting their fences and laneways in place, only to have them all destroyed in the blaze.

“It is a tough thing to think about, but we knew we had some time to spare so we came down to help out,” Mr Williams said.

“We unfortunately cannot be here for the entire time as we have other commitments, but we are heading home this weekend and will try to get back down when we can.

“We just want to do our part.”

Although a lot of work has already been accomplished, Ms Howarth said work would continue at Keilira for another two months.

Interested volunteers can contact Ms Howarth on 0429 367 538 for more information.