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Byron Shire
February 23, 2024

Hands-on help needed after devastating fires

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What is left of the tractor in the machinery shed after the fire raged through the property in early December. Photo supplied.

Aslan Shand

It is devastating to see your work of 18 years destroyed in less than ten minutes. But for local Bart Vanarey, who lives in Byron Bay, the destruction of his and his partner’s 600 acres 30km outside of Tabulam at Pretty Gully in early December by fire is the least of their worries. More important is the devastation that has been wrought on their farming neighbours and local community and what they can do to help.

All the sheds and caravan were burnt to the ground. Photo supplied.

‘One of my immediate neighbours lost her house. She is in her 70s and she and her daughter had to run across the paddock while it was raining embers to escape the fire that took her home. Two of the other neighbours’ houses were saved through the efforts of the local fire brigade and the RFS,’ explained Bart.

On the Thursday they had been told that there was a fire in the area but that it was not that bad. By 12.30pm on Friday locals were fighting for their houses and lives.

‘I rang Jason, one of my neighbours, who is also in charge of the local RFS on the Friday. He took my call but had to tell me that they had lost our property. He told me that everything was gone and not to come up. Then as he was hanging up I could hear them all yelling that they needed to get everyone in the truck and get out of there.’

Between 13 and 15 houses were lost in the local farming community and thousands and thousands of acres have been burnt out leaving farmers reliant on hand feeding their animals.

The hay truck heading out to neighbouring farms to supply cattle with feed. Photo supplied.

‘I got up there on the Sunday and the shed and caravan we stay in, the machinery shed, everything that we needed there to reforest the property was gone,’ said Bart, who is obviously devastated by the loss.

‘My initial concern was for my neighbours. I rallied some friends together and we raised $35,000 to buy feed for neighbours’ cattle. We were able to purchase 60 tonnes of hay that has been driven up from Victoria. My neighbours were blown away to feel that someone cares about them.

‘The hay has given them breathing space hopefully till mid-February so that they have time to get back on their feet.’

Need helping hands

While with preparation the farmers were able to save most of their stock the majority of fences were destroyed by fire. They are currently having to keep their livestock in small paddocks that still have some basic fencing. BlazeAid is helping to supply the materials they need to get their basic fencing back in place but they need hands on deck to help them get the work done.

‘They need help to build their main fences as we just don’t have the workforce to get the work done,’ said Bart.

One of the many burnt out fences that need to be replaced. Photo supplied.

‘We need some able-bodied people who can come to our aid. We need some people who can spare from four days to a week to help with fencing work to get the perimeters of the properties fences’ done.’

Bart says they can supply tents, mattresses, some camp-oven cooking, and company for anyone who thinks they might have the time to spare.

While Bart says he will also get back to reforesting their property, helping get his neighbours back on their feet is his priority at the moment.

You can contact Bart to volunteer your time for a bit of fencing on 0427 856 281 or email: [email protected].

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