For those of us who were not directly affected by the Wambelong bushfire, it is easy to forget the pain and anguish some families endured, and continue to endure - having their property, possessions, livestock and livelihoods swiftly erased by the blaze. As the fourth anniversary of the local disaster rolls around, old wounds re-surface with January 13, 2013 now widely acknowledged as the darkest day in the history of Coonabarabran.
The conditions on this year’s anniversary of the bushfire were evocative of the weather experienced four years ago, with a heat wave sending temperatures up into the 40’s.
Thankfully, there have been no major fire incidents to date in the Warrumbungle region this summer.
Other areas have not been as fortunate, with the Wuuluman bushfire clean-up operation presently in force between Mudgee in Wellington.
This bushfire has burnt out 2743 hectares, which pales in comparison to the 54,000 hectares decimated in the wake of the Wambelong bushfire.
The sheer size of the Wambelong bushfire is hard to fathom. It is estimated that 95 per cent of the Warrumbungle National Park was affected. More than 50 homes were razed. Countless sheds, agricultural equipment, livestock, native animals and family pets went with it too.
From a media perspective, the Wambelong bushfire has been the largest story I’ve covered during my career. I can honestly say that I wish I didn’t have to cover it and I hope I never again have to report on such tragic events. Full stop.
While the fire raged on, I recall joining news’ teams from across the state for a press tour of Timor Road with then current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to view the aftermath of the inferno.
Hitching a ride with a journalist and a photographer from a Sydney-based publication, I listened as they discussed their plans for the upcoming weekend, while I sat quietly in the back of the car counting the number of homes that weren’t where they were supposed to be and the people I knew that had lived in them.
Coonabarabran is my home and seeing so much loss and destruction, then having to write about it in a sensitive fashion, was challenging to say the least.
When the fire was contained, the media outlets departed for the next big story, while the local community was left to grieve.
Four years later, Stephen Lill, co-chairperson of the Coonabarabran Property Owners Alliance, continues to wage war for just compensation for landholders affected by the fire.
“The National Park fire that was allowed to happen still effects the lives of those it scorched,” Mr Lill said.
“Those responsible have yet to be brought fully to account.
“Those affected have yet to be compensated under the NSW Government Public Liability provisions.
“What an indictment this is to the good governance of our state.”
A Coronial Inquiry and two Parliamentary Inquiries have also failed to bring any resolution to the Wambelong Bushfire.
Even the original cause of the bushfire remains undetermined due to “insufficient evidence”.
Amazingly, no lives were lost, but how many people still feel “lost”?
Sadly, some families have bid farewell to Coonabarabran forever, their memories of life here forever charred by the Wambelong bushfire.
The front page of the Coonabarabran Times from 17 January, 2013, featuring coverage of the Wambelong bushfire.