BURNT OUT: Dealing with fires, droughts and floods are all in a farmer’s day’s work for Jonathan Mann and his family.
BURNT OUT: Dealing with fires, droughts and floods are all in a farmer’s day’s work for Jonathan Mann and his family. Luka Kauzlaric

Flaming tragedy for Benaraby farmer as fire season rears

GRAZIER Jonathan Mann was only dressed in sandshoes, shorts and a T-shirt when he spotted the smoke on his way home from Gladstone on Monday, November 11.

He couldn't tell where the fire was, but said it was unbelievable when he discovered it was next to the Mann cattle property.

"The dozer was already doing what he could but I had nothing, I was breaking branches off trees to try and flog it out.

"I was doing all right for quite a while, but it became too long and other stuff kept re-flaming.

"When it got into some long grass there was no holding it after that - I just had to step back and watch it.

"It was pretty frustrating, when you're already struggling, and there's feed just burning in front of you."

More than 3500 acres of the property burnt out last week, following another 500 acres that was burnt out several weeks earlier.

And yet Jonathan still has a smile on his face.

"It's the farmer's life," he said.

"You've just got to look at what has to be fixed and keep going."

The fourth-generation farmer kicked the dirt on the ground - it was covered with a layer of charcoal, and surrounded by fallen trees.

At the end of the day we put ourselves up to try and help but people have to help themselves, to be prepared as landholders

Many of the trees are unburnt but the dry ground, mixed with the fire and a heavy downpour of rain is pulling the roots out, causing them to fall unexpectedly around the property.

Jonathan's first priority following the fire was ensuring the 125 head of cattle in that area were able to feed, which he was able to do with the help of a donation of hay bales from QAL, before having to fix the boundary fences so cattle couldn't escape onto the roads.

"There are kilometres and kilometres of fence line and there's going to be multiple points where trees have fallen," he said.

"My three brothers and I are planning to get together and hit it all - see how far we get."

Jonathan could see the Awoonga Dam Road fire on his way home.
Jonathan could see the Awoonga Dam Road fire on his way home.

Getting into the property is also difficult; just feeding the cattle means constant stopping and chain-sawing trees covering the road.

"It's good to show people what the affect of something like this is - they say there's no property loss but there is."

He said fixing the fences would mean about $2500 in labour plus materials on top of that. He also has to buy feed for the cattle, which is expensive and in high demand throughout the drought-stricken state.

"We spent thousands of dollars putting in a big fire break along the fence line at Benaraby so we could avoid a big loss and, lo and behold, it's started up on the wrong side which is very unfortunate," he said.

"I don't recall being burnt out to this extent; this seems to be the worst we've had for this area.

"Two weeks ago we were burnt out on the other side…so we're starting to feel whacked from all sides."

It took more than 50 fire fighters nearly three days to get the Awoonga Dam Rd fire under control.

Among those was Benaraby Rural Fire Brigade first officer David Kretschmer, who said with the current dry conditions the fire risk would remain high.

"If we don't get significant rain and it continues to be hot then there's a significant risk of quite a number of fire scenarios," he said.

"And until we get the widespread wet season rain then the storms just give you bits of respite but there'll still be places that will burn."

"At the end of the day we put ourselves up to try and help but people have to help themselves, to be prepared as landholders."

Preparation is key, he said, with about 90% of the Benaraby region made up of private landholders, each owner needed to be responsible for their property.

DEVASTATION: Boyne Island Fire Brigade firefighter Eddie O’Brien conducts precautionary back burning along Awoonga Dam Road.
DEVASTATION: Boyne Island Fire Brigade firefighter Eddie O’Brien conducts precautionary back burning along Awoonga Dam Road.

"To get people to tidy up their yards, and on the bigger acreages make sure they put all their fire breaks in, at least if something does happen then you have a defendable property," he said.

"Fires can start from all different reasons - wheels coming off trailers, lightning strikes, cigarette butts - so you try to mitigate that but many people don't understand the importance of doing those little things to make their property defendable.

"Embers can be a big problem - mulch against the house, lounge chairs on verandas - those sorts of things are all risk items when conditions are bad and if there is a fire and embers getting around than any of those readily combustible materials certainly increase the risk that you'll lose your house or shed."

"People don't have a lot of time but some also don't realise the difference it can make...I don't know what the answer is but the main thing is to be as prepared as you can."

Prepare your property

  • Clear space around buildings.
  • Clear and remove undergrowth.
  • Fill any gaps in the eaves and around windows and door frames.
  • Protect larger under-deck areas with non-flammable screens.
  • Remove any fire hazards from around the house.
  • Rake up bark, leaves and twigs.
  • More tips for preparing your property are available in your Bushfire Survival Plan at www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au.

Hazard reduction permits

  • Call the Rural Fire Service Rockhampton area office on 4938 4736 to find your local fire warden.
  • Get an application form from your fire warden or online.
  • Contact the owners/occupiers of the land adjoining the property where you want to light a fire and advise them of your intention to apply for a permit. You need to allow them 72 hours in which to contact the fire warden and raise any concerns regarding the intended fire.
  • The fire warden may impose conditions on the permit to reduce unwanted risk or nuisance to others.
Gracemere firefighters work on extinguishing flames.
Gracemere firefighters work on extinguishing flames. Mike Richards


The everyday heroes from Agnes Water

premium_icon The everyday heroes from Agnes Water

Michael Stuth does not consider himself a hero but the thousands of people in Nepal...

‘Stay away from cars’: Motorist’s shocking DUI reading

premium_icon ‘Stay away from cars’: Motorist’s shocking DUI reading

A GLADSTONE dad admitted to having an alcohol problem after he blew nearly five...

Funding to attract more tourists to our region

premium_icon Funding to attract more tourists to our region

Two of the region’s biggest events score state funds to help drive further tourism...