"Before the wind change, I'd lost 10 per cent of my land. After it, I lost 95 per cent."
Fourth-generation Merino woolgrower Rodney McErvale is today contemplating the loss of 279 lambs and 400 hectares of land after Friday's devastating Mount Lonarch fire, which threatened the town of Lexton.
The Lexton Country Fire Authority brigade said the fire was the worst in the district since 1922.
Mr McErvale, who also runs a woollen blanket and garment manufacturing business Leroy Mac with his partner Rebecca, told The Courier he was fighting the fire just a few kilometres from his home when it jumped the Ampitheatre Road, spreading from the Ben Major Conservation Reserve to the Ben More Bushland Reserve, abutting his property.
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"Around 10 past 8 the wind changed to the north, and the fire continued slowly against the wind in Ben More. Then - it changed again. It swung back. Of the 1060 acres we have here, 1000 were burnt; I saved 60 acres."
The 279 sheep Mr McErvale lost, weaner lambs, will set him back those numbers for five years, he said.
"We managed to save my father's woolshed and mine," Mr McErvale said.
"But everything is burnt, and burnt black. Because this was an early fire it burnt very hot, so everything is gone."
Another thing Mr McErvale saved from the blaze was a semi-trailer load of hay, destined for the Rural Aid project, to be delivered to NSW early in the New Year. Mr McErvale was adamant that, despite his own losses, the hay was going to be delivered.
When it's pitch black and 39° and you've got the wind as well - it's pretty scary. The warning bells go off.Martin Wynne
At nearby Lamplough, Martin Wynne and his partner Pamela were packed and ready to leave before the fire had started, due to the heat.
"It got to 45° here, I think," Mr Wynne says.
"We've got a battery-operated radio here in the house, because they had forecast lightning as well. So we were listening for the crackling on the radio (signalling lightning), but there was none. Then the app went off saying there was a fire at Mount Lonarch, and there was no lightning at that stage. But they had been burning bluegums up there, because they cut down a heap a few years ago. I wondered if that was how it started, but I don't really know."
Mr Wynne says the couple had a brief sleep in the evening and woke to find their home full of smoke at 11.30pm.
"I jumped up on the roof and could see this huge glow in the sky," he says.
"We could see the fire, and said 'we're out of here,' and it was 12.30am when we drove out the gate, and local farmer Bruce Zeuschner was coming down the road. He asked us what we were doing; we told him we were going to Avoca. And he said the wind had changed and we'd be safe, we'd be better off at home. So we did."
Mr Wynne said the recommendation of a long-time local like Mr Zeuschner made him feel secure, as he'd been through fires before.
"All our neighbours were switched on... we were all in contact with each other, which was awesome. We were just lucky; the wind died down for an hour before the change, and that gave them a chance to hit it with the heavy machinery.
"When it's pitch black and 39° and you've got the wind as well - it's pretty scary. The warning bells go off."
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