A call has gone out for volunteers and donations to help rebuild nearly 3000km of fencing destroyed in the recent devastating grassfires in Victoria’s south west.
Agriculture Victoria’s latest figures indicate 1434km of external boundary fencing and 1450km of internal fencing was destroyed in the four fires that tore through nearly 300 farm properties in the region.
With some peat fires still burning, charity group BlazeAid has already established basecamps in Macarthur, Terang and Cobden to begin the monumental task of replacing the lost fencing, a job that is expected to take up to six months.
BlazeAid president Kevin Butler, a Kilmore sheep farmer, said offers had been flowing in since news of the fires hit, but the organisation desperately needed $1 million for its Post and Wire program to fund fencing supplies.
The money will be converted to fencing supplies vouchers and distributed to farmers in need to redeem at local farm supplies outlets in preparation for the arrival of BlazeAid volunteers.
‘‘We’ve got dairy farmers ringing in tears. They’ve had zero ability to put money away for this type of thing for two years and anything they can get makes a huge difference,’’ Mr Buttler said.
Kubota has provided BlazeAid with two front-end loaders valued at $80000 for the south-west recovery effort, but the group still needs money to buy two Munro drivers.
‘‘When you go on to a farm that has been burnt out, the farmers are absolutely devastated. They don’t know where to begin,’’ Mr Butler said. ‘‘It’s always a bit emotional for them when a team of strangers pulls up in their driveway with their sleeves rolled up ready to go. It’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of that.’’
Mr Butler started BlazeAid in the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday fires and it has since helped more than 4500 farmers rebuild their fencing after fires and floods.
It is hoped that 30 to 40 volunteers will be operating out of each of the three basecamps at any given time when BlazeAid hits full stride in coming weeks.
‘‘If we can get three to four teams out a day from each location, it all starts to roll out very quickly and it’s great to watch the properties getting ticked off, one-by-one,’’ Mr Butler said.
How can Victorians help?
●Volunteer for fencing or other work (catering etc). Visit http://blazeaid.com.au/ for more details;
●Donate money for the BlazeAid Post and Wire program, by phoning 0418990172;
●Donate money for volunteers’ food and other needs by phoning 0418990172; and
●Lend spare post-hole drivers and other equipment by contacting basecamp coordinators.
BlazeAid hoped to begin distributing Post and Wire vouchers by Easter Monday.
Mr Butler said the volunteer cohort typically ranged in age from late teens to the 70s, with many camping at basecamp in tents, caravans and swags.
‘‘It’s a great sense of camaraderie and you get to sit down and enjoy a feed and a drink and have a good chin wag at the end of the day,’’ he said.
WestVic Dairy regional manager Lindsay Ferguson thanked BlazeAid for coming to the aid of the region’s farmers and joined the call for volunteers and donors.
Mr Ferguson said while the fires had dealt a devastating blow to many farmers, it had also highlighted the depth of regional Victoria’s community spirit.
‘‘There are a lot of farming families out there who are really hurting — they’ve lost stock and a lot of them have lost a significant amount of farm infrastructure — so it is critical that we continue to be there for them as they rebuild,’’ Mr Ferguson said.
‘‘By donating time, money or equipment to BlazeAid, you’re helping those farmers recover in the most practical way possible.’’