Australian horse owner tells of “hell day” in bushfires (AU)

Cross-posted from Horse Talk NZ

A long-time Australian horse breeder living near the fire-ravaged Bunyip State Forest in Victoria has told of “the hell day” on Saturday as fire threatened their property and horses.

Arabian and thoroughbred breeder Dorothy Byrnes said she “thought we were gone”, as fire surrounded their farm in Trafalgar, east of Melbourne.

“We had fires on all sides and embers coming down on the farm. Our house is covered in ash. It was the most terrifying, awful day. We thought (the fire) was going to explode … the heat … it was a horrible orange colour, wind was whistling around at a terrible pace. I’ve never been so frightened,” Mrs Byrnes said. “It was so fast and ferocious.”

She said reports from around the Kilmore area in Victoria indicated the many thoroughbred studs in the area were safe, “but on the other side where there are a lot of pony club and show horses there have been terrible losses,” she said.

Reports from veterinarians revealed many horses had been put down after being burned. Many others had suffered no burns to their bodies but as fires raced through their paddocks they were burned up to the coronet area (above the hoof). “They’re going to lose their hooves, so they have to put them down.”

Fortunately, the Byrnes’ horses, including several stallions, did not panic as smoke and flames threatened. She said all the horses who were able to get near the house came as close as they could. “They were just standing – hoping for the best, I suppose,” she said.

Mrs Byrne said that falling embers were starting spot fires all over, but fortunately the wind changed, saving them from the worst. She and her family elected to stay on their property as the fires threatened. “There was a huge pall of smoke – it was just horrible. People were getting out but we stayed here, where else do you go?”

“I remember all the big fires, Yallara 40 years ago; Ash Wednesday – that was terrifying, 26 years ago. But this, this is all over the place,” she said.

“Apparently in Bunyip, the fire started in the grass and it was burning for days before it got up to the top of the trees. They just won’t let people in to control the vegetation. There are too many people now living in these areas, you just can’t have it how it was so many years ago.

“I can’t really describe the terrible day. The week before we’d had three days of about 45 degrees, and all the leaves fell off the trees – it looked like autumn, all the plants were scorched. And then this hell day on Saturday. It was horrible. And it just gets worse.

“Everything is in disarray.”

The Australian equestrian community was already rallying to help horse owners affected by the fires, with relief funds being started and offers of truckloads of supplies from neighbouring states.

The Victoria branch of Australia’s Equestrian Federation (EFA) has opened a bush fire fund, and state Premier John Brumby has launched a 2009 Victorian bushfire fund in partnership with Red Cross and the Federal Government. >>

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