GALLERY: Picking up the pieces after Gisborne fires

RELATED: Fodder, agistment needed after fires devastate Victorian farms

ON the weekend of February 8, fires burned throughout the Gisborne and Riddells Creek region, destroying two homes and a lot of grassland.

Now, a week and a half later, affected residents are trying to assess the damage and get on with life as best they can.

Bill Crookshanks, who owns Harbison Alpacas, lost seven of his 25 alpacas in the fire.

He says it was initially very hard to accept the animals’ deaths.

“I talk to them every day as I feed them,” he says.

“It cut pretty deep for a while.”

Mr Crookshanks says the fire descended on his property very quickly; not giving him time to prepare.

He spent the day fighting with the CFA to defend his home, but his seven male alpacas, which were in a separate paddock to the females, sadly perished.

All four hectares of his grassland was burned, but his home remains intact.

“The hardest part was loosing the boys,” Mr Crookshanks says of the damage.

But while Mr Crookshanks is saddened by the animals’ deaths, he says the Victorian alpaca community has rallied together to support him.

As all of Mr Crookshanks’ grass was blackened, his remaining alpacas have been taken to an alpaca farm in Woodend.

Mr Crookshanks won’t be able to home his alpacas again until spring, when his grass grows back, but thankfully he is retired and the money from his alpaca business is only a supplementary income.

Mary Horell, who owns Hillcrest Deer Farm, says most of the grass on her 40-hectare property was burnt in the fire and she now has 100 of her deer.

There were more than 300 deer on the property before the fire.

Many of the Horells’ deer managed to escape when the fire broke out, and in the days that have past they’ve made their way back.

Mrs Horell says she and husband Herb had found several carcasses on the property and surrounds but are hoping more deer will return to them still.

“They’re really beautiful animals to have,” she says.

She says as well as destroying her grassland, the fire had also burned down most of their fences.

Unfortunately, the Horells don’t have fence insurance, which Mrs Horells describes as “painful”.

“Twenty years ago the cost of fencing was $100,000 – I can’t imagine what it will cost now,” she says.

But overall Mrs Horell says she and Herb have been given a lot of support from friends and neighbours and they count themselves lucky.

“We appreciate that there are so many people who have been devastated by the fires and we consider ourselves fortunate to have the deer and the house,” Mrs Horell says.

“It could have been so much worse.”

Lyn Bailey, an administrator of volunteer group BlazeAid, says the group is available to provide assistance to farmers with damaged fences.

BlazeAid volunteers set up base camps at properties whose fences have been damaged by fires and rebuild their fences free of charge.

Owners need only cover the cost of materials.

Ms Bailey says the group was created to help rural people who couldn’t afford insurance.

“The majority of people who live on a rural property … when things get tight one of the first things they have to drop is the insurance on their fencing,” she says.

She says damaged fences are a great economic burden for farmers with animals, who often escape if property fencing isn’t in place.

She says the group hasn’t had any requests from families in the Gisborne region, but that people in need of help should call. 

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh says the DEPI is on the ground visiting affected properties to conduct impact assessments and assist with animal welfare needs.

“The recent and ongoing bushfires have had devastating effects across Victoria, with a number of livestock farmers impacted by the destruction of pasture and other feed supplies,” he says.

 “The government’s priority is to help farmers on the ground as soon and safely possible.”

More than 300 properties were damaged and more than 10,000 livestock perished in the Gisborne and Darraweit Guim fires.

Thanks to the CFA, no one was injured by the blaze.

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