'No coming back': farmer

23:00, Jan 17 2013
Boxing day 2000
David Western faces the task of gathering up and burying the carcasses of several hundred sheep that perished in the Wither Hills fire.
Boxing day 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Jill and Gray Rathgen examine the remains of her Redwood Pass vineyard.
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Smoke billows behind the Montana Winery near Blenheim
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Volunteers flee the fire behind Blenheim
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Sue Muollo and father Ruffy dampen grass around their Blenheim home as the fire creeps closer
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Volunteer Tony Turnbull runs from the oncoming blaze in Redwood Pass yesterday
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Fire blazes on the Wither Hills behind Blenheim houses
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Julia and Steve Healy with son Braden
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
State Highway 1 through the Weld Pass
Boxing Day fire 2000
Cars creep along State Highway 1 south of Blenheim as flames lick down to the roadside
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000
Boxing Day fire 2000

Before Boxing Day 2000, Wither Hills farmer David Western said flooding was the biggest disaster he had faced as a farmer. 

''This was worse. Infinitely worse. There's no coming back from a fire,'' he said. 

The Boxing Day fire destroyed all but about 12 hectares of the 643 hectare sheep and cattle farm Mr Western and wife Pat own off Hardings Rd, killing some of his 1000 ewes.

A valuable 40 hectare forestry block on the land was also destroyed. It was two years before they could begin farming cattle again on the land, he said.

He has not farmed sheep there again.

When he saw the smoke about 4.30pm, soon after the fire started, Mr Western knew it was serious.

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He hoped it might pass them by, but an hour an half later the wind changed and ''it was all over''.  

''It started to come down our direction and we realised we were in big trouble. There was such a fierce wind you didn't have time for a lot of rescuing stock.''

The speed and scale of the fire took everyone by surprise, he said.

 ''I really thought the fire fighters would be on to it with helicopters and planes and it would be taken under control sooner than it was, but it was just off the scale. It was a fire storm, the measure of the fire was such they didn't have a scale for it.''  

The next day was spent dampening hot spots and helping fight the fire on neighbours' land and dealing with the dead and injured animals.  

''My son-in-law spent the next two days with a rifle going round finding and destroying stock that had been injured.'' 

They ''struggled through'' with the help of their bed and breakfast business and from friends, family and groups such as Federated Farmers, and the council and others who rallied round. 

Fortunately, Mr Western said, his son had talked him into insuring the forestry block and the stock were also insured, although they were under-valued.

He found his fences were not insured, because they weren't specified in the agreement. Along with better insurance Mr Western said many farmers had built earth banks and better dam and water storage to prepare for future fires, although, like everyone involved, he hoped they would not happen again.

The Marlborough Express