ANIMALS are still dying a year after the devastating Coonabarabran bushfire as the first submissions to the upper house inquiry make more damning allegations against the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).
Today is the first anniversary of the fire that scoured more than four-fifths of the Warrumbungle National Park and claimed more than 50 properties, along with livestock and wildlife.
When former prime minister Julia Gillard visited the area, she described it as “looking like a lunar landscape”.
Farmer Stephen Knight said in a submission to the Wambelong fire inquiry that he lost 15 kilometres of fencing in the fire and 250 wethers.
But he said he was now losing more animals because of the growth of a poisonous weed that attacks a sheep’s vital organs.
He wrote: “We feel the protocol of the NPWS has caused us a great deal of unnecessary despair. This despair is ongoing due to poisoning of our stock, due to the huge growth of darling pea on our badly burnt country. We feel the NPWS have too much country and they do not look after it well enough to prevent these fires from occurring.”
He told Fairfax: “Darling pea was one of the first things to regenerate and it has proliferated. It has always been there but is now growing much more thickly and it is deadly. We have lost at least another 90 sheep and it is a horrible death.”
Many landowners have blamed the NPWS for not containing a small fire that started in the park a day before the conflagration and for backburning on the Sunday morning, despite forecasts of catastrophic conditions, with 44-degree temperatures and strong, dry winds.
Farmer Keith Lambell, who hasn’t made a written submission but is one of hundreds interviewed by police, said on the Saturday two national parks crews left the blaze in the evening, leaving one RFS crew to watch the fire through the night.
He said he then received a call from the RFS at 6am asking him to go back because the NPWS wanted to backburn.
“You know how you go into a room and get the feeling you’re not wanted? Well, that’s how we felt when we got up there,” he said.
“The national parks boys just didn’t want us there.
“It wouldn’t have even made the front page of the Coonabarabran Times if they hadn’t done the backburning, but they still went ahead and did it.”
He also said he witnessed national parks firefighters allow the park’s visitors’ centre to burn on the Sunday afternoon.
“We just shook our heads and said: ‘Why aren’t they trying to put it out?’ I will go to my grave saying that.”
An RFS spokesman said any suggestion the RFS could not get involved in firefighting on public land before a Section 44 being declared was incorrect.