After a week on the front line of a bushfire in the Woorabinda region, Adrian Roots estimates only 20 per cent of the property he manages remains unburnt.
Surviving on about 10 hours sleep in the five days since the catastrophic declaration of last Wednesday, an exhausted Adrian was hoping the fire he and other land managers had been fighting adjacent to the Blackdown Tableland National Park was finally under control.
The fire, which started from uncertain origins, had been burning in inaccessible range country for over a month when fire weather warnings were ramped up at the beginning of last week.
“We had the fire held last Monday but then there were those terrible temperatures and 70kph wind gusts on Wednesday – it jumped our breaks at 3pm,” Adrian said. “We had to bail out – it would have been suicide to try and get in front of it with a break that afternoon.”
Fiery whirlwinds were sending spot fires 400m ahead of the main fire front, turning the beast he was fighting on Spring Hill into a monster with many heads.
“I’d say we’ve lost 50,000 acres now – there’s only about 10,000 acres that hasn’t burnt,” he said.
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Making sure the 500 breeders and their progeny were safe was Adrian’s priority each night when the fire died down, making sure they weren’t going to get pinned in a corner and moving them to safer ground each night.
Then through the days, when it was too dangerous to do anything close to the main fire front, he had to put hours in fixing burnt exposed water pipes so the stock could get a drink.
As well as pipelines, Adrian lost water storage tanks but no other infrastructure that he was aware of.
He said while the owner had other blocks of land the cattle could be moved to, it was complicated by the cows calving.
“If there’s no rain before Christmas, we’ll have to feed them,” he said.
There were four to six volunteers working alongside him through the emergency, while other neighbours had three or four in their group, and another five or six people were dealing with a third outbreak from the main fire.
“There was no QFES or other official help,” Adrian said. “We’re not whinging but it would have been nice if there’d been an offer to help.”
Central Highlands mayor, Kerry Hayes, said QFES and National Parks and Wildlife staff had done a lot of work inside the park in the last seven days, backburning from the western, north eastern and eastern sides of Blackdown and Expedition Range national parks.
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“I understand it’s safe enough now and that it’s been handed to the Rural Fire Brigade to manage from here.”
Last Friday, after inspecting the Blackdown fire by helicopter, he described it as very extensive, adding that he was pleased with the collaborative effort between all authorities and landholders to date.
He said this week there may have been no other opportunity for anyone to offer the landholders help, given that efforts had to be shared with the fire emergency also threatening in the Carnarvon Gorge area.
On Tuesday afternoon, emergency management personnel in the Central Highlands were bracing for lightning strikes and further wind in the wake of storm warnings.