Blaze almost destroys houses

A CHANCE patrol of their property last Sunday week first alerted Matt Craig to the fire that would soon bear down on his family’s new home.

Checking on a bull in the back paddock, Mr Craig saw the flames racing from Mountain Ash Rd to his boundary.

He quickly rode back to the house and told wife, Kristy to ring the Rural Fire Service and get out of the house.

“I grabbed photos and other items and took our baby (one-year-old) Pippa into my motherin- law’s place at Goulburn,” Mrs Craig said.

She returned to collect her other two children who had been at Windellama with her brother-in-law and neighbours rushed to their aid, collecting carloads of items.

Fire fighting efforts went into overdrive from that point. Neighbours had already arrived to help, but once the RFS and Goulburn Fire Brigade realised the Craig’s Rosemont Rd house was under threat, units converged.

“We lost 90 acres and the fire came within 10 to 20 metres of the house,” Mrs Craig told the Post.

At one point the blaze was coming from two fronts, the east and south, due to swirling winds.

It had already burnt through 36 hectares (90 acres) of the Cortese family property off Shaws Creek Rd and adjoining land and 600 newly planted trees and a chook shed on the Craigs neighbour’s land.

Mrs Craig said her brother-in-law, who joined in the fighting effort, had commented the intensity was so great he could feel it drawing him in.

A helicopter and fixed wing aircraft joined ground units to stop the fire in its tracks, just short of the home the Craigs had built and moved into last August.

“We’re very grateful they were able to save the house but we’ve lost a lot of production and we have to replace 95 per cent of fences,” Mrs Craig said.

“…We’ve still got each other but just starting out, it feels like a big kick in the guts.”

Fortunately, the family did not lose any of its 25 cattle and calves from the lightly stocked 55 hectare (136-acre) holding.

A RFS investigator believes Sunday’s blaze, the biggest around Goulburn in some time, started from a fallen power line, some 2.8km along Mountain Ash Rd, shortly after 1pm. A crew reported the fallen line early in the piece, Southern Tablelands zone manager Peter Alley said.

The blaze burnt out some 70ha in an area bounded by Shaws Creek, Rosemont and Mountain Ash Roads, Mr Alley said. But property owners said it was closer to 300ha.

Twenty RFS units comprising 60 personnel, Goulburn Fire Brigade, one fixed wing aircraft from Cowra and two helicopters, including a spotter and water bomber from the ACT, fought the outbreak.

The plane was also used last Saturday week, combating a fire at Mt Wayo, off Woodhouselee Rd, which burnt out more than 200 hectares.

Mr Alley said the Mountain Ash Rd blaze initially headed east, then north, before turning back on itself to the west.

Police were advising people to evacuate but some, like Rosemont Rd residents Marian and Ken Painter felt they were safe.

The fire was burning southeast of their 28- acre ‘Willow Farm’ property, lightly stocked with cows, sheep and a few horses.

“The police came and asked us if we were prepared to leave but we didn’t think we were at risk because we had out fire truck with water and pumps ready,” Mrs Painter said.

The couple brought stock closer to the house and counted themselves lucky the wind didn’t blow the fire back their way.

Other owners weren’t so lucky, including Luigi and Anna Cortese, who lost 36ha of their Shaws Ck Rd property. (See separate story).

“We were afraid for our safety,” Mrs Painter said.

“We’ve been here 51 years and have never experienced anything like it.”

The fire was contained at 3.45pm. Mr Alley said units patrolled the area for the next few days to prevent flare ups.

At least six fires started from lightning strikes kept crews busy in the following days.

A spotter plane found one burning in scrub near Kooringaroo Rd, off Mountain Ash Rd last Monday night. Six units attended.

Last Thursday, three units attended a grassfire 20km south of Goulburn on Braidwood Rd.

A man using a welder to build yards inadvertently sparked the outbreak.

This season the RFS has attended six fires started from ride on lawnmowers. The Mount Wayo fire started from an angle grinder.

• Dam makes a difference

LUIGI and Anna Cortese only moved to their new Shaws Creek Rd home in December, 2011.

One year later, the former Kemps Creek couple experienced what they called “a horror day.”

Mrs Cortese could not believe the pace at which last Sunday week’s fire moved.

“First we saw the smoke and all of a sudden the fire was near our back door,” she said.

“It was a very nasty experience for everyone involved.”

The blaze destroyed 90 acres of their 100-acre property and came within 20 metres of their home on the western side.

Fire crews descended on the house and saved two sheds, just 20 metres to the home’s north. A glasshouse, which fortunately wasn’t being used, was destroyed.

The couple was advised to stay indoors while tankers drew water from their large dam and moved in and out of paddocks to the west.

“We were afraid we would lose the house because you never know how the wind will change and if it will carry embers and take hold somewhere else,” Mrs Cortese said.

The couple run six cattle on their farm and while they’ve lost productive capacity and fencing, was thankful the house was still intact.

“They did a beautiful job,” Mrs Cortese said of fire crews.

Mr Cortese said his dam made a huge difference, saving tankers time re-filling elsewhere to combat the blaze. He pointed out many farmers were battling bureaucracy to build large dams on their properties but this experience proved their necessity.

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