BlazeAid saves Lucindale farmers more than $100,000

SELFLESS EFFORT: BlazeAid volunteers Leon Drissen, Rowena Kempton, Maggie Paltridge and Russell Sinclair have helped rebuild more than 40km of fences across the Lucindale, Avenue Range and Blackford area.

By Raquel Mustillo

BUSHFIRE recovery organisation BlazeAid has saved Avenue Range and Lucindale property owners more than $100,000 by helping to rebuild fences destroyed by the Blackford fire in January. 

Since opening the Lucindale camp in late January, more than 97 volunteers have devoted a collective 602 days to clearing 54km of fences and rebuilding approximately 75km of fence across fire-ravaged properties.

A total of 32 properties have registered for help in the area and three farms have had work completed, with farmers estimating a savings of $108,360. 

But for former Lucindale resident and BlazeAid volunteer Maggie Paltridge, giving the gift of a fence to keep in livestock has been life-changing.

“One of the guys who was severely burnt out was the ambulance driver when my Dad died, so I have a strong connection to Lucindale and want to help the people who have helped me,” she said.

“We helped pull down the fence of a farmer who told us it would have taken him a day to do it alone, but with three of us it took a couple of hours and within two days we had fixed the boundary fence. 

“It gives the farmer a chance to forget about containment so they can just get on with running the farm.” 

Ms Paltridge, who lives in Western Australia, planned to visit her mother in Gawler before a grass fire broke out in the Blackford, Avenue Range and Lucindale area on January 11. 

The fire burned more than 17,000ha of grass and scrub and destroyed three structures, numerous sheds, thousands of livestock and incurred a significant loss to fencing.

“Some of the stories we heard are just devastating,” Ms Paltridge said. 

“It is heartbreaking to hear people telling you about having to shoot sheep and burying stock. 

“Even a month later, when farmers cows are calving and they find their teats have been burnt out and they have to put down their cow and calf because they can’t feed it is so eye-opening.”

Buoyed by a desire to help farmers, landholders and old friends impacted by the bushfire, Ms Paltridge returned to Lucindale for the first time in 35 years to work alongside fencing contractors and reinstate fences of main roads and boundary fences.

“When you drive down the road to Avenue and look out the window, you can see the work you have done and it gives you a real sense of pride,” she said. 

“At the end of the day, you have achieved something and the person you have done it for is really thankful for what you have done.”

Prior to attending the BlazeAid camp, Sydney resident Rowena Kempton had no experience in building fences but quickly learned how to attach droppers on fences and staple wires into posts. 

“You don’t need any experience and everyone can do it, you don’t need to be skilled at all,” she said.

“It is easy work, but it is also hard when you are out on the farm all day. 

“But there’s no pressure to complete something and you can do as much as you can and if you don’t finish, it’s not a problem.

“The camaraderie and rapport among volunteers is really something as well, you work with different people every day and at the end of the day, some people have a beer or a couple of glasses of wine and talk about what they have achieved.” 

The fellowship among BlazeAid is well-known for return participants, with honour board recipient John Carver and wife Karen undertaking their sixth stint with the voluntary organisation. 

The Carvers are among many volunteers who have returned to the Limestone Coast after providing help to property owners in the wake of last year’s Keilira bushfire.

“The first BlazeAid we helped out with was in Coonabarabran after the big New South Wales bushfires and we thought we would go because it was right near home – only 2000km away,” he said. 

“After that we went to Palmer and the Barossa Valley, Henley Bridge, Kingston and then here. 

“My wife helps out in the kitchen and I go out on the farm, but I don’t really know why we do it, we just like doing it.

“I was in the CFS for 40 something years and it’s just something that you do.”

Member for Barker Tony Pasin, who toured the fire ground with South Australian Governor the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC last month, said he was impressed by the sense of optimism and

strength of community spirit in the district.

“As I have said before, the road to recovery will be a long on, but I know the Lucindale, Avenue Range and Blackford communities are amongst the most resilient and capable in my electorate and I

have every confidence they’ll emerge from this disaster better than they came into it,” Mr Pasin said.