For the past two weeks, pastoralists, including Tim and Chris Higham, in Western Australia’s Gascoyne region have been battling ferocious bushfires that have destroyed property and livestock.
- 340,000 hectares of land in WA’s Gascoyne has been destroyed by fire
- Hundreds of livestock on Meedo Station died in the blaze
- Meedo’s Chris Higham says pastoralists are thankful for no loss of human life
Meedo Station, 800 kilometres north of Perth, has for more than 16 years been home to the Higham family, who run cattle, sheep and goats.
When lightning struck on January 6, three fires broke out in the area, plus another further north.
Combined with strong winds and a significant fuel load, two of the fires joined together to form one mammoth blaze.
“We’ve had fires previously, but nothing quite as ferocious as this one,” Mrs Higham said.
“The [fire] that came up from Woodleigh Station covered ground in 10 hours that they’d modelled it to do in 48.
In an early estimation, Mrs Higham believed at least 60 per cent of her station’s productive land and kilometres of fencing had been destroyed in the blaze.
At least 300 sheep and an unknown number of goats were believed to have died.
Mrs Higham said she could not yet put a figure on the loss to the station.
“It’s just been razed.”
Fires contained, but extreme temps, winds forecast
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said the four fires had been brought under control and were contained, but authorities were cautious, with extreme temperatures and winds forecast over the weekend.
More than 340,000 hectares have been burnt across the Gascoyne Complex fires, according to DFES incident controller Peter Norman.
“They were moving [up to] 10 kilometres per hour at their peak.
“It’s very undulating, very steep … very hard to get enough machines and resources there to stop that.”
Mr Norman said pastoralists in the region were assisted by crews from DFES, the Parks and Wildlife Service, and local government, and volunteer bushfire brigades attended from across the state.
Ground crews were also aided by a Coulson 737 FireLiner, which had a retardant capability.
“They travel at 850km/hr with 15,000 litres of water or retardant to quell any escalating incident, Mr Norman said.
According to DFES, 90,000 litres of retardant was dropped over the Gascoyne Complex fires.
Best of years up in smoke
After decades of drought, 2021 had been a particularly good year for rainfall in the region.
The town of Carnarvon, 100km north of the station, recorded more than 400 millimetres for the year, compared to an average of 187.
According to Mrs Higham, it had been a “one-in-a-hundred-year” season, which added to the loss.
Despite the devastation, the Highams are trying to remain positive.
“It’s stock, it’s dirt, it’s significant, but it’s not as significant as losing people,” Mrs Higham said.