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Farmer distraught when fire engulfed his land, sheep

STANDING before a 30ft tall "carpet of flames", farmer Jason Manton was forced to send an army of volunteers away from where he knew precious grazing land and thousands of sheep remained undefended.

The captain of the local rural fire brigade was at his property Abonlea, near Jugiong when he got the call to say smoke was on the horizon and properties could be under threat on Tuesday.

As he followed the smoke he wondered how to best to defend land and homes at the same time but when he arrived at the fire front, the decision was made for him.

In all his years fighting blazes around the country, he had never seen anything like what was to be the beginning of a 100km wide wildfire that would claim everything in its path between Jugiong and Yass.

Putting the fire out wasn't an option but there was still a chance to save homes and property.

"I made the call in the first 15 minutes that there was absolutely nothing we could do but move into property protection mode," Jason said.

"For an organisation that is supposed to be made of volunteers, you couldn't get a more professional outfit of people working together.

"We delegated tankers out to a number of properties and people literally risked their lives to save properties...they weren't leaving their land.

"For two days, volunteers resisted sleep to fend of flames breaching containment lines and threatening homes.

"Incredibly, every home was saved and just one hay shed burned.

"But the victory was shortlived as farmers who headed out to their grazing country to survey the damage were confronted with blackened paddocks and thousands of sheep which had burned to death would have to be destroyed.

"At Jason's property alone, three-quarters of his pastures were wiped out and 120 sheep lost.

"He is adamant his family was lucky compared to other properties where the body count in in the thousands, but admits that even after years of living on the land, seeing dead sheep and having to shoot them is no easy task.

"It's very tough mate...I can tell you it's one of the hardest things I have had to do," Jason said.

"For the kids too, it was particularly difficult. They had grown quite fond of the animals so the first night was pretty grim".

Fires are still burning out near Yass but Jason is confident the brigade has local blazes under control.

He said it would only be when all the flames have cleared that scope of the loss is understood.In the meantime, a handful of sheep in two small paddocks, which were untouched by the fires, provide hope for the future.

Jason can't get over the number of people who have phoned and offered hay, "a mate is coming over tomorrow to drought up stock" and leaving is not an option.

His property, which began as soldier's settlement's box three generations ago, will always be home and he has no doubt, "things will turn around".

"Even with an inch of rain you would be able to put sheep back out there within about a month so lets just hope for an early autumn" Jason said.

"We are a tough proud mob around here, from the youngest to the oldest."It will be fine mate...it will be fine."

Topics:  bushfire farmers firefighters


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