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Bushfire-ravaged garlic farm on the NSW Mid North Coast faces fresh destruction from rain and floods

Melissa Martin, Thursday February 13, 2020 - 15:42 EDT
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After spending the closing months of 2019 fighting bushfires, Kay Bridge's fire tanker is now covered in rubble washed into her shed from recent rain. - ABC

In three short months, Kay Bridge has seen firsthand the extremes this Australian summer has produced; her garlic farm on the New South Wales Mid North Coast has been ravaged by both fire and rain.

Ms Bridge lives in the tiny community of Lower Creek, between Kempsey and Armidale, where she and her husband are members of the Rural Fire Service (RFS).

In November she watched the Carrai East fire sweep through her property, destroying her garlic crop; now torrential rain has seen a river of mud and rock rip through "like a freight train", inundating her shed and farmland with a thick layer of rubble.

"We need heavy machinery to get this clear," she said.

"We're waiting for the rain to abate and get some machinery, but the road from Kempsey has been cut and the road to Armidale has been cut."

Bushfires left landscape vulnerable

While the Carrai East bushfire was destructive for Ms Bridge's farming operation, her home and sheds were spared.

Being a member of the RFS, she was well prepared for fire, but she said its intensity surprised her.

"We didn't expect it to come through as hard and as fast and as large; the height of the flame was anywhere from five to 20 metres," Ms Bridge said.

"The trees around the house and across the road and all around us were just blackened sticks, there was no undergrowth left, it was just burnt down to sand; it was pretty apocalyptic really."

It was that devastation of the landscape that Ms Bridge said made her property vulnerable to the river of rubble which was sparked when heavy rain began falling late last week.

The initial downpour pushed the river of mud against her shed, but she called in a bobcat to clear some of the debris.

The next downpour actually cleared some of the previous mess, but the third lot of rain early this week "came through like a freight train".

"Because there's no undergrowth to slow the flow of runoff, the rain has brought down anything that was lying on the soil as well as top soil, subsoil, rocks, it's brought down trees and washed away the roads and just inundated everything."

The mudslide swept through the shed, leaving a waist-high river of debris that has now settled against everything that was inside; including her RFS truck.

The rain still has not abated, nor has the destruction.

"There are boulders the size of watermelons just rolling down the road, then coming over the road and through our property," Ms Bridge said.

"Being part of the RFS we've learned fire behaviour, how to prepare, how to manage and how the fire will behave under certain circumstances; with the water coming down, we've got no idea of the sheer force of it, it is relentless and takes everything in its path."

Livelihood lost

It is not only Ms Bridge's shed that has suffered damage; the farm is unusable following its double-whammy of destruction.

"At the moment the farming business is dead in the water," she said.

The drought had already impacted the farm's output last year, before the bushfires destroyed almost everything on the property, now the rain has created an ever greater problem.

"We were coming up to the planting season for the garlic at the end of February, beginning of March, now there's so much rubble [on our farming area], there's just no way we'll be able to plant," Ms Bridge said.

The seed stock for planting was also destroyed when the mud inundated the shed.

Despite the devastation and no insurance, Ms Bridge said she plans to stay put.

"We'll stay, definitely, we're looking at plan B or plan C, we just haven't developed those plans yet; but this is home, we own it, we'll work with it."

'Survival mode'

Ms Bridge said the torrent of mud has left the property isolated, and she is waiting for the rain to ease before she can think of what comes next.

"Honestly we're kind of in survival mode at the moment," she said.

"We do have a pantry and we do have enough to survive for about two weeks, but our drinking water supply is getting a bit low.

"We keep saying its 'a land of drought and flooding rain', but this event is definitely unusual, because of the fires taking out all of the undergrowth and the run-off is unimpeded, it's definitely an extreme set of circumstances."


© ABC 2020

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