Our Bushfire Story
On the 20th of December 2019 lightning started multiple fires on Kangaroo Island. While these were large and did a lot of damage, it was the second wave of fires in early January 2020 that ended up burning half of our beautiful island (or more than half a million acres). Two lives, 89 houses, even more sheds, over 50,000 sheep and cattle, endless kilometres of fences and an uncountable number of native animals were lost.
While it was a constant battle for 6 weeks, for us at Ella Matta, the biggest two days were Friday the 3th of January, and Thursday the 9th of January.
Friday the 3th of January:
Andrew (Aphid) and Tracie were off island as we thought the direct threat of the fire at that stage had passed, or at least was a while off. Jamie and Larry spent the morning on the farm, on what was becoming a hot windy day. A couple of the older fires nearby flared up again after lunch so Jamie and Larry took the farm fire unit to try and help out there, which were quickly put under control. As the day ended, Larry went home, and Jamie decided to start bringing sheep closer to the yards, the only active fire remaining was getting bigger rapidly in Finders Chase National Park, but was still 35km away and blowing in a different direction. While a wind change was predicted to swing the fire directly at us, we were comfortable thinking it was still a day or two away. By the time Jamie had started on the second mob the wind had changed and picked up massively. It turned what was a sunny blue sky into 15-20 metre visibility. Jamie had to give up moving sheep and head back to the sheds. He decided to pack his bag, put all the sprinklers on and then re-assess. By the time he had done this the fire had created it's own crazy weather system, the wind had become huge, and embers had begun to start landing everywhere, with very little visibility. After a few conversations with people near the fire front, Jamie decided all he could do was evacuate. By this stage Aphid was on his way to the ferry to get back.
Soon after evacuating the fire hit Jamie's place, killing 250 sheep, 50 cattle, destroying all fences, all sheds and doing a large amount of damage to his house. If it weren't for the local CFS coming through soon after the fire front passed it would have been completely burnt. Andrew met Jamie in Kingscote and at midnight, on advice that the fire front had passed they headed back to the farm. Larry and his son Nick had arrived at the farm 30min earlier and were busy putting spot fires out all over the farm. Aphid and Jamie got on the bikes and started moving as many sheep out of danger as possible. This continued through until sunrise.
The morning showed what the true damage was. Our main farm escaped extremely lucky, with all of our stud sheep and commercial ewes still alive. Jamie's place was not so lucky. We soon discovered that multiple neighbours had lost multiple thousands of livestock. We spent the day burying thousands of sheep and shooting ones that were still alive but unable to be saved. This will be a day we never forget.
Thursday the 9th of January:
This was the next day of predicted bad fire conditions, and with fires surrounding our farm we knew we were in for a challenging day. After 3 days of preparation, now with Tracie, Ella and Kate back on board, we started the day with a team of 13 farm units (8 being friends from the mainland) ready for the front to come at us, and by soon after lunch were down to 3 with the rest heading off to help others as the wind swung around towards Parndana and beyond. We put out 50+ flare ups on our property and did everything we could with the CFS, graders and bulldozers to contain the fire front in a couple of our neighbours farms. We finally put out the last spot at around midnight before the cool weather with strong winds kicking in. We finally relaxed at 5.30am when some rain hit. But again through luck and an awesome team of very organised farm units saved most of our main farm and all sheep once again. The island was not as lucky with another huge area burnt.
Wednesday the 12th of February:
Some perspective provided. Georgie and Reid welcomed the healthy little Hunter James into the world and our family on the 12th of February. Talk about a roller-coaster, but what an amazing way to give us all a positive boost!
As of mid June we have pretty much completed the cleanup, most of our fences are either patched or rebuilt, Jamie has moved back to his place in a new small 2 bedroom cabin, his house is still 6-9 months off of being fixed, and we are busy having a successful stud lambing. While it is still a long road ahead we are finally seeing the light, and our stud should keep ticking along as normal. This was a huge challenge for us to complete our AI, ET and pen mate joining program during the fire and cleanup, but it is paying off. Our ET was well below expectations but our overall percentages should be above average and we are very excited about the quality of the next generation of Rams! Below are some of the sires which will be up for sale this October.
We would like to thank all the amazing people who have helped us and our community during this time. We cannot thank you enough. What an amazing community we have. Way too many individuals to mention.
Also thanks to BlazeAid, the State, Federal and Local Governments, charities/donations, the army, and all our friends who helped fight the fires.