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Haystack burns for days as lightning chaos strikes farmers and more stormy weather on the way

Kit Mochan, Thursday November 30, 2017 - 13:32 EDT
Audience submitted image
The hay stack on the Wheatbelt property burned for three days. - Audience submitted

A farming family has lost a large hay and barley straw stack to a raging 12-foot-high inferno, still smouldering three days later, sparked by lightning which struck their property early Monday morning.

The recent fire comes after a series of ongoing rain and storm fronts in Western Australia's grain belt which has delayed harvests for growers and started blazes on several farming properties.

Stacey Lullfitz and her husband Jim were trying to sleep through the storm in Hyden when they believe a bolt of lightning struck a fence, spraying a large haystack with a shower of sparks at around four in the morning.

"You were literally battling to sleep, the sky was so bright and the thunder was so loud … it shook the whole house," she said.

"My husband walked outside … and found the haystack on fire."

Mrs Lullfitz immediately called her father, farmer Ken Graham, who lives 10 kilometres from the property.

"I got on the loader which was on a different farm and drove down there," Mr Graham said.

"[It was] just a big, fiery ball … about 12 feet high … and we couldn't do anything about it."

Despite the early hour, Mrs Lullfitz said the small farming community rallied quickly to aid the family.

"We got on the phones straight away and the call was put out and everyone came racing over," she said.

"Within half an hour we had most of the neighbours here helping."

More storms to come

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Gianni Colangelo said that thunderstorms associated with warmer weather could continue to cause problems for WA farmers.

The bureau are forecasting a string of hot days starting from Friday which could spell a stormy weekend for those in the Wheatbelt, Great Southern and Perth Hills.

"Thunderstorms throughout the inland parts of WA should become more commonplace as we delve deeper into summer," he said.

"Keep your eye on the forecast. We generally have a pretty good lead time — at least in the order of days of when we're pretty certain that thunderstorm is at least likely in your area.

"It's pretty hard to tell exactly whose house or whose suburb is going to get hit with a thunderstorm, but generally the risk area [we can] pinpoint."

Three days to burn

Ken Graham, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said there was little they could do but watch around $7,000 worth of his daughter's stock feed burn to the ground.

"There's about sixty bales of hay in it and about 100 bales of barley straw," he said.

"We pushed it around with the loader to get it to burn quicker.

"A lot of embers were coming off it and we've got bush 20 metres away it … we had to cut a fire break through the bush."

The family, who are hand feeding sheep at the moment, lost nearly all of their animal feed and are unsure what insurance will cover.

"I've got some other hay elsewhere, but not much," Mr Graham said.

"I'm talking with our insurance company at the moment seeing what we can sort out."

He credits the proper fire preparation on the farm for preventing a potential tragedy for his family, including his daughter's young children.

"You've got to make sure you've got firebreaks around your haystack, which we did have," he said.

"The sparks go 100 metres or more."

But Ms Lullfitz described the rain associated with the storm front as a saving grace.

"The fact that we'd had 23 millimetres of rain is what saved it from getting anywhere else, and the fire breaks around the haystack."


© ABC 2017

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