Fires rage on, community prepares

Smoke billowing high over Temma Farm as a fire rages just five kilometres from the property. Photo courtesy of Eunice Atkins.

Situation. Last year Temma Farm saw the driest October since the ‘40s with a recording of just five millilitres, a factor that Sue Wigg believes has greatly contributed to the unpredictable fires the area is currently battling.

A volunteer for the Bureau of Meteorology, Sue records daily measurements of rainfall at her Temma home and has done so since moving to the property three years ago.

“Temma Farm has rainfall records dating back to 1943,” she said.

“And what makes these fires so exceptional is because it’s so dry, the west coast is not used to it.

Last year we had 838mL of annual rainfall, Temma Farm normally gets 1000mL so that gives you a bit of an idea, [the conditions have] let the fires have a field day because the soil and vegetation is just so dry.”

Currently residing in their Burnie unit, Sue and husband Guy had to evacuate their property as a result of the ill-affects the smoke was having on Guy’s lung condition.

Luckily, the couple have left the property in the care of close friends Eunice and Tony Atkins, Sue and Guy’s son Jamie, his friend Bruce Abblitt and two workers who are taking measures to protect the property.

“Two bulldozers have been going full time for the last two days to put in fire breaks on the northern side of Temma Farm and sweeping up all vegetation,” Sue said.

“They’ve been continually working, ploughing fire breaks as wide as possible. But the problem will be if the smoke comes in, then they can’t see to defend.”

The 3500-acre farm boasts a 400-hectare eucalyptus plantation, due for harvest in March and 550 head of cattle.

“We’ve just done up the old, original homestead, so we really hope that doesn’t go.”

Selflessly authorising Tasmania Fire Service access to several dams on the property to help defend against the fires, Sue and Guy are praying for rain.

“We talk to Tony and Eunice every two hours, they keep us updated. Thank goodness they’re there. We’re grateful for the workmen as well . . . and Jamie’s wife Merete Schmidt who is staying at our Marrawah homestead and takes food down to them regularly.”

Thanking the support of the community, Sue said the updates they regularly receive from TFS give them some peace of mind.

“Shack owners from Arthur River to Temma have been advised to prepare their shacks . . . But our fear is that the wind will change,” Sue said of the unpredictability.

“We are as prepared as we can be. But it’s out of control, it’s very frightening [particularly] being so remote. It’s been nearly a fortnight, it’s horrendous.

“I feel so sorry for the rest of Tasmania, there are 70 fires across the state at the moment.”

With just five kilometres separating Temma Farm from the fire front at the time of print, Eunice gave an update on the situation saying: “There is no wind, ash falling and we have had only a smidgen of rain. It’s very black in the north east.”

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