A YEAR ON: Woolooga residents Kayleen Moss and Ashley & Linda Blake in front of the Woolooga Hall a year on from the devastating fires that ripped through the townships destroying 12,000ha of grazing feed and displacing hundreds of livestock.
A YEAR ON: Woolooga residents Kayleen Moss and Ashley & Linda Blake in front of the Woolooga Hall a year on from the devastating fires that ripped through the townships destroying 12,000ha of grazing feed and displacing hundreds of livestock. Troy Jegers

'Woolooga on edge' a year after 12000ha fire

IT IS exactly one year since fire ripped through the Woolooga and Sexton communities, destroying 12,000ha of pasture, kilometres of fencing, infrastructure and some stock over several days, but thankfully not claiming any human lives - though some people came close.

Those impacted have moved on and rebuilt though the very real threat of fire is forefront in many minds.

 

An aerial shot of Woolooga in 2018.
An aerial shot of Woolooga in 2018. Troy Jegers

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Woolooga one year after the fires.
Woolooga one year after the fires. Troy Jegers

The fires which first broke out on September 20, 2018 were not fully contained until eight days later.

Many hundreds of head of livestock was displaced, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fencing, tanks and sheds.

Up to 200 firefighters from the Gympie region, Sunshine Coast and beyond, fought in conditions fuelled by high velocity winds that drove the head of the fire through tinder-dry countryside, jumping roads and the Wide Bay Creek and hitting numerous properties from many sides.

Resident Kayleen Moss, who won the Gympie District Citizen of the year award on Australia Day for her contribution to the clean-up, said the community was on high alert for a repeat.

 

Kayleen Moss - I think Woolooga has bounced back really well but the drought conditions have gotten people on edge. It's because we had the fire 12 months ago, people are freaking out.
Kayleen Moss - I think Woolooga has bounced back really well but the drought conditions have gotten people on edge. It's because we had the fire 12 months ago, people are freaking out. Philippe Coquerand

"I think the community bounced back really well. Mind you the drought conditions now have got everybody on edge, where you wouldn't have that 'oh gosh, is it going to catch on fire, now because of that fire 12 months ago everybody is freaking out," she said.

"...and as soon as there is smoke, everybody is texting each other and ringing each other saying 'where is the smoke?'

"Even now, people are getting their water tanks ready, they've got their fire pumps ready... everything is set so that if it were to go up, they are ready to go straight away.

 

Ashley Blake.
Ashley Blake. Troy Jegers

"The preparedness within the community is huge now compared to what it was back then because we didn't have that fear."

The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast some rain for today and tomorrow in parts of the Gympie region, with a 40 per cent chance of up to 2mm falling.

"It won't be drought-breaking, but some places could receive more rain than others," forecaster Jess Gardner said.

 

Woolooga residents Vin and Dianne Hollis near the burnt down bridge.
Woolooga residents Vin and Dianne Hollis near the burnt down bridge. Troy Jegers

"An upper trough moving across southern Queensland is moving to the southeast, which is why we're likely to get some rainfall."

One of the heroes who helped save the Woolooga State School from burning down last September was Ashley Blake.

"It's just what anyone would've done," the humble local said.

"I was starting to put it out because it was under the actual building, and some officers pulled up and saw what was going on, then they helped me put it out.

"I think some embers had blown across the road and fallen into the garden, because that and the school roof was catching. Some officers asked me not to go in, but I snuck around the corner. It was a bit naughty but the school would have gone up in flames if I didn't do something, I felt that I needed to act."

Mr Blake's wife Linda said it was surreal that this week marked one year since the fires.

 

Woolooga resident Ross McClymont at his property with his new shed.
Woolooga resident Ross McClymont at his property with his new shed. Troy Jegers

"We were at the sale yards when it happened which we did (yesterday). We did survive but there is always the fear that we might not," Mrs Blake said.

"There will be a next time at some point and I just hope the community pulls together as well as it did last time.

"Everything is dry. All we can do is wait for the rain to arrive."

Most patrons of the Woolooga pub yesterday agreed that the community was now fully restored thanks to the support of many businesses and locals.

 

Woolooga one year after the fires.
Woolooga one year after the fires. Troy Jegers

Grazier Ross McClymont, who owns a 48ha property, said the fire destroyed his 4.2m steel structured shed.

"Life goes on and you just have to grin and bear it and hope it never happens again," he said.

"It was a massive loss for us as we lost a shed and our neighbour lost his hay trailer, but we're just getting over it. What can you do?"

 

Ashley Blake - I think they have bounced back pretty well. I think the community banded together and supported eachother especially Kayleen Moss who received the Gympie District Citizen of the year award on Australia Day.
Ashley Blake - I think they have bounced back pretty well. I think the community banded together and supported eachother especially Kayleen Moss who received the Gympie District Citizen of the year award on Australia Day. Philippe Coquerand

Mr McClymont put up a new zincalume shed just before Christmas, which took three days to build.

"I had to pay the additional to get it built a bit better than what it was before," he said.

"The one good thing to come from the fire last year was that it brought the entire community together."

Residents Vince and Dianne Hollis, who live on Thomas St where the historic rail bridge was destroyed in the fire, said it was a massive loss to the community.

 

Steve Rauchle - It has bounced back but it's just as dry as it was then. People are more prepared but they are hoping it doesn't happen again.
Steve Rauchle - It has bounced back but it's just as dry as it was then. People are more prepared but they are hoping it doesn't happen again. Philippe Coquerand

"It's made people aware that fires can happen and that everyone should be prepared," Mr Hollis said.

"We didn't lose anything except for sleep. We were sh----- kittens there for a while and we were concerned we could lose our house.

"This place was going bananas, we were sitting down the pub and you could hear somebody's fire alarms and next minute there's all this smoke. It was scary and we packed up our stuff and left.

"We were very lucky and the fireys were absolutely fantastic. They were professionals and they were acting as a team extinguishing the fire."

Gympie Times


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