Farmer forced to shoot ‘scorched’ cows

 

A NSW dairy-turned-beef farmer's story of having to shoot his cattle has made world headlines in the wake of the Australian bushfire crisis.

In an area where four people perished in a ferocious fire, Steve Shipton's eyes were burning as he tried to save his home.

"I thought I was a goner," the Coolagolite cattle farmer told AAP.

"The heat was horrendous. My eyes … I couldn't see 20 feet last night."

The Countegany/Dampier State Forest blaze raced through Cobargo and Coolagolite on Tuesday morning on its way to burning an area twice the size of Canberra.

Steve Shipton (left) talks to a local vet in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP
Steve Shipton (left) talks to a local vet in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP

Three men and an unidentified person died out of a population of about 1050.

Mr Shipton thought he was fine to protect his home after getting his wife and kids inside and his stock out to a dirt clearing.

"It all happened so quick," the 46-year-old said, soot still covering his face.

"I stayed out. I suppose I shouldn't have but it just happened so fast.

Steve Shipton inspects the burns on a calf he has just put down in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP
Steve Shipton inspects the burns on a calf he has just put down in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP

"It's just unbelievable. The ferocity and how quick … That's what shocked me and that's why I thought we were in a good situation to survive," he said.

He estimates he lost about a tenth of his 250-odd head of cattle.

His story has made world headlines on the UK's Metro and Mail Online.

Most of the cattle had been where Mr Shipton thought would be safe - on dirt with a feed rack - but the animals "obviously panicked".

Steve Shipton (centre) is consoled by fellow farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP
Steve Shipton (centre) is consoled by fellow farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP

A vet on Wednesday was assessing which would survive and which needed to be euthanised.

"There are some in there badly scorched," Mr Shipton said.

"He'll know better than me what can survive and what can't because I've never been through this scenario.

Steve Shipton prepares to shoot an injured calf in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP
Steve Shipton prepares to shoot an injured calf in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP

"You don't want them to suffer." The forefront spared Cobargo artist Sally Wilson's shop but embers took hold of the historic property as she and her partner Christopher Lee protected their home and animals a short walk away.

As things calmed down at home, Mr Lee walked over to the shop to find it alight.

"The firefighters said it had started 20 minutes before," she told AAP, standing beside the rubble.

Steve Shipton prepares to shoot an injured calf in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP
Steve Shipton prepares to shoot an injured calf in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite, NSW. Picture: AAP

 

"He stood out the front and watched it burn."

The couple moved to Cobargo just 18 months ago after deciding it was "a really safe pocket" with a vibrant, caring community.

"I've been visiting here for years and it was like nothing could get you," she said.

Local farmer Greg Tett said the community was a very tight-knit one, where people "dove in" to help those whose chips were down.

"That's the way it's been for a long time and why I think a lot of people like to come here," he told AAP.

He suspects he'll have to entirely de-stock after 95 per cent of his 110-acre property was scorched.

"At least we're still alive," his wife Karen Tett said.

Mr Tett woke about 1am on Tuesday to a phone call from his daughter warning about the approaching fire.

His brother spent five hours building a fire break in vain.

"When it came down the mountain, we had spot fires everywhere," Mr Tett said. He said his family will fight on.

"We've got to."


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