Gilmore battered by fires, now storms

Gilmore Valley farmers Paul and Andrea Sturgess at the community bushfire recovery meeting at Gilmore on Wednesday.

THE viability of Paul and Andrea Sturgess’s 160-hectare Gilmore Valley property has been put in jeopardy, first by the Dunns Road fire and then by the storms that followed. 

On January 4, the Sturgess property was impacted by a spot fire from Batlow.

“It came off the top of Batlow Hill near the cemetery there, and landed on my boundary, approximately three kilometres, spotted over,” Mr Sturgess said.

In the following hour and a half, the property was impacted by fire three times from three different directions.

Considering this, Mr Sturgess and wife Andrea were lucky – but not completely.

“We saved everything; all our buildings, all our machines, all our cattle, until three days later when a limb fell on one of our cows and killed her,” he said.

Also, over five kilometres of fence was destroyed.

“But the biggest loss is our business,” he said.

The Sturgess’ have a long running eucalyptus oil business, and the stock for this has been devastated.

“We’ve lost all our eucalyptus trees that we harvest,” Mr Sturgess said.

This dealt a virtual death blow to this business.

“We’ve got stock in the shed to carry on with for a little while, but sooner or later we are going to run out of the pure oil which is our base product.

“Just looking through the bush now, a month later I reckon up to 80 per cent of those trees are dead, and are not going to regrow, and what is going to regrow, it will be at least five years before we can harvest them.

After the devastation of the fire, the Sturgess property was hit with storms – three times.

“We had 22mm in 20 minutes, then we had 26mm in 15 minutes two days apart, then we had 36mm in an hour or so a week and two days later.”

Most of the damage these did were to the access road on the property. The culverts blocked up and it took Mr Sturgess a day and a half to clear them.

“Two days later they were just as full as when I started,” he said.

He said a damage bill of $100,000 would be a conservative estimate.

“It’s going to keep happening until we get some grass and timber to hold it. The whole top end of the Gilmore Valley, all the flats down on the creek, they’re all flooded over with rocks and timber.”

BlazeAid volunteers have been at the Sturgess property twice helping to pull fences down.

Mr Sturgess isn’t sure the property will remain viable.

“Possibly not without going outside working,” he said.

Mr and Mrs Sturgess  are applying for a $75,000 grant for fire-affected farmers, and are being assisted by a case worker from the Rural Financial Counselling Service.   

The Sturgess’ attended a community bushfire recovery meeting at Gilmore on Wednesday, one of several such meetings held in the Snowy Valleys Shire.

Representatives from Snowy Valleys Council, Local Land Services, Rural Resilience Program, RFS, Red Cross, and NSW Police were among those who spoke.