Burnt hand a lucky escape from fire

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
A header on fire.
Camera IconA header on fire.

After flames reduced his Kojonup paddock to ash earlier this month, Kojonup farmer Rob Warburton said he was lucky to escape with only a burnt hand.

The sudden blaze began on January 2, when 28C temperatures, strong winds and a suspected machinery fire combined to create what Mr Warburton later called “a perfect storm”.

The fire burnt through more than 2km and 400ha of land, destroying everything in its path.

Mr Warburton called it one of the most devastating fires on his farm after it consumed the barley crop and two headers, tractors, a bag loader and a chaser bin.

No livestock was lost, but Mr Warburton said for a short while he felt he could be in a lot of trouble.

“We were just harvesting away and ... I looked in the rear vision mirror and noticed smoke and flames,” he said.

“I grabbed a fire extinguisher and started squirting onto the fire in the header ... (but) I could already see I’d lit up 30m or 40m behind me.”

The fire consumed the barley crop, two headers, tractors, a bag loader and a chaser bin.
Camera IconThe fire consumed the barley crop, two headers, tractors, a bag loader and a chaser bin.

Mr Warburton then jumped into emergency mode. First, he ensured wife Jen was out of danger, then he scrambled to keep the blaze contained.

However, it soon became apparent recovery attempts would be futile.

Barley is a highly flammable crop, and entire fields can be aflame within minutes of the first sparks.

“It was all happening very quickly,” he said.

“I just drove around the outside of the fire, I made sure Jen was safe and I started trying to control (the fire) — it was already pretty huge.”

With the fire out of control, as many as 100 neighbours turned up to help.

Using a small army of fire extinguishers, the flame was eventually subdued and completely put out the next day — but not before it destroyed fences, machinery and the crop.

In the aftermath, Mr Warburton conceded the safest act would have been to stand back and let the fire burn, but he had to try to protect his neighbours.

“It’s just adrenaline ... ideally what I should have done is walked into the wind and walked away, that would have been the best thing to do,” he said.

“(But) you want to stop the fire, you don’t want it to burn your neighbours out.”

Neighbours returned over the following days to help repair fences to ensure livestock couldn’t escape. Online, Mr Warburton thanked his community for their support.

“We had the most amazing support from the whole community both during and after the fire,” he said.

“Thank you to the wider community and services, both for the support on the day and all the people who’ve rung, cooked food and texted since.”

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