Police investigating theft of hay donated to Victorian bushfire victims
- From: The Weekly Times
- February 19, 2014
POLICE are investigating the suspected theft of hay donated to help victims of last weeks devastating Victorian bushfires.
The suspected heist, at Lancefield, has forced the relocation of a depot established to co-ordinate supplies.
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It comes amid estimates the farm reconstruction effort from last week’s fires could be greater than the Black Saturday fires of 2009.
BlazeAid’s Kevin Butler said more farms were devastated in the fires in Mickleham-Kilmore, the Grampians and East Gippsland than in 2009.
No lives were lost and far fewer homes were destroyed but the overall cost of the reconstruction effort would be far larger, Mr Butler said.
The final toll is still being calculated, as fires continue to burn in East Gippsland, but Mr Butler estimates more than 6000km of fencing, equivalent to a straight line between Melbourne and Darwin and back, needed to be replaced.
Thousands of sheep and cattle were either killed or put down after the fires, with hundreds of sheds and hay and pasture worth millions of dollars also lost.
The official damage toll will not be known for weeks yet but early estimates from the Mickleham-Kilmore fire are starting to reveal the true extent of the damage.
Almost 12,000 sheep, 450 cattle and 318 other animals including horses, goats, deer and alpacas have been verified as having died in the fire and 1044km of fences already recorded as destroyed.
An emergency fodder depot initiated by the Victorian Farmers Federation at the Lancefield Park football ground to help the many hundreds of farmers who were burned out was moved to a private property after the disappearance of “30-odd” small square bales of hay last week.
Police are investigating the matter.
Ken Colson, of the Lancefield Romsey Lions Club, which is helping coordinate supplies, said the suspected theft occurred last Friday between 10am and 10.30am when the depot was unmanned.
Mr Colson said he hoped whoever took the bales were affected by the fires but “if it was proved they weren’t genuine, I’d say by all means prosecute them”.
“I’m not saying what they did is right but it would have been nice if they left a name and address and say, ‘Sorry, there was no one in attendance and we did take some bales,’ ” Mr Colson said.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
He said the depot had been moved to a property on Oakleys Lane “where it is a little more secure — not open viewing to the public”.
“We wanted to remove the visual temptation,” he said.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the case was disappointing and “would be a sad reflection if hay has been taken away from fire-affected farmers”.
“I hope that the police can get to the bottom of this quickly,” Mr Walsh said.
A Department of Environment and Primary Industries spokesman said the initial assessment of fire damage should be completed this week.
Volunteers are working to replace more than 300km of fencing lost in the Grampians and thousands more kilometres of fencing believed to have been lost in East Gippsland.
“The effort here in the Kilmore fire is going to be bigger than anything else before it,” Mr Butler said.
He said there were many more hobby farms than traditional farms consumed by the fires last week.
Farmers say general insurance would only cover a portion of the fencing.
Sunbury farmer Stewart Johnson, who lost 24km of fencings, has been told his insurance will provide about $2000 towards its replacement which would cover only a small fraction of the loss.
Farmers would be leaning heavily on organisations such as BlazeAid and government disaster relief, he said.
“When you calculate all the external and internal fences involved it is going to be enormous and take close to a year to fix.
“This is going to be bigger than Black Saturday in terms of reconstruction. We are going to need thousands of volunteers to do the work,” he said.