HUNDREDS of semi trailer loads of hay are being trucked into the fire devastated Whittlesea, Redesdale, Beechworth and Gippsland areas as rural Victoria pulls together to begin the enormous task of recovery from the weekend’s catastrophic bushfires.
Donations of hay, agistment and assistance have been pouring into the Victorian Farmers Federation fodder and agistment line since Saturday when bushfires razed over 350,000 hectares of land.
The Bendigo Showgrounds has also been thrown open to house horses affected by the fire.
Fanned by gale force winds and 40-degree plus temperatures on Saturday, fires flared across the state, razing the townships of Kinglake and Strathewen on the outskirts of Melbourne and the picturesque tourist town of Marysville north east of the city, as well as parts of Gippsland, destroying at least 900 homes and leaving over 5000 people homeless.
Many say they had little to no warning before fire bore down on them and engulfed their homes. Others were killed in their cars trying to flee the flames.
The fires tragically bore out forecasts from authorities on Friday that conditions would be worse than those preceding the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983.
The official death toll stood at 181 on Wednesday afternoon, rendering it already the country’s deadliest, ahead of the Ash Wednesday fires which killed 47 Victorians and 28 in South Australia and the Black Friday fires of 1939 in which 71 died.
But the toll was expected to rise well over 200 as emergency crews begin the grim task of searching the wreckage.
The VFF said it was too early to put a figure on livestock losses, but it was expected to run into the hundreds of thousands, including 10,000 sheep lost at Redesdale.
The worst hit areas were Redesdale, Bunyip, Yarram and Beechworth.
“We are still counting the cost,” a spokesman said.
The VFF expects to have an agistment register online within 24 hours.
The organization has received offers of over 150 semi trailers of fodder from across the country, including a boatload of hay from Tasmania, with the first deliveries made to Whittlesea on Monday.
Local shires have also set up disaster recovery centres to match those offering agistment, feed, fencing and accommodation with those in need.
Police have set up a taskforce to investigate suspicions that at least some of the fires were the work of arsonists.
Fifty homes were lost at Maiden Gully on the outskirts of Bendigo.
A Country Fire Authority spokeswoman said despite moderate conditions across the state, winds had caused fires to flare up again.
She said 3500 CFA and 1000 Department of Sustainability firefighters were tackling the blazes, with another 500 expected from other states.
A Bushfire Appeal Fund has been set up for victims, with $10m pledged by the Federal Government, $1m each from the four major banks and $500,000 from Wesfarmers.
*Extract of report to appear in Stock & Land, February 12.
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