Alpaca farmers wait in limbo for news of home

Stuff | NZFarmer.co.nz
By: Pat Deavoll
Photo: By Howard Keene

Photo Caption: Greg Graham, wife Rachel and one of their alpaca stud animals. The family is waiting to be let back onto their property after it was ravaged by fire.

Not knowing is the hard part for Greg Graham as he waits for news of his alpaca stud and wedding venue on Hoon Hay Valley Road in Christchurch's Port Hills.

Authorities were unable to confirm whether the wedding venue, Graham's house, two farm cottages and cousin's house were still standing after flames tore through the property on Wednesday.

"I'm pretty sure the cottages and my cousin's house aren't there anymore," he said.

"I'm just waiting to find out about our home and the wedding venue.

"Even if the venue is still standing, I don't know how we can bring 120 people into a disaster zone."

Graham said his llama stud of about 30 animals had been moved to a safe location across a creek, then moved again by fire crew at some point yesterday evening.

"They are okay. They have half a dozen troughs."

Graham said he "camped out" with his family in a paddock last night after being evacuated.

"We watched the flames. The fire chief kept us in the loop," he said, "I wanted to get in today, but they won't let me."

He said he was taking his family out for lunch to pass the time.

"The waiting is very difficult," he said.

Cashmere Estate Forest, owned by McVicar Holdings Ltd, has worn its fair share of the fire.

The 400ha forest sprawls from Dyers Pass Road down into the valley and up across Worsley Spur.

McVicar Holdings Ltd director John McVicar said they hadn't been able to get to the forest so couldn't say how many trees had been burnt.

But it's a significant amount.

"There are millions of dollars worth of trees in that forest so the loss will be in the millions."

The loss will be covered by insurance, he said.

Adverse events manager Katie Milne said she had yet to receive word of stock losses from the fire at this stage.

"The footprint of the fire covers mainly reserve and plantation land.

"Unfortunately, because this land is no longer grazed there has been a build-up of dry grass and debris which has acted as fuel to the fire.

A fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical problem, began on Monday along Early Valley Rd in Lansdowne. By 7pm, crews were battling a second blaze, burning on Marley's Hill, south of the city. Authorities don't know how that blaze began, but believe it started in a car park off Summit Rd.

The fires have merged into one and now cover more than 1800 hectares, or 18 square kilometres.

Changeable winds are driving the fires on several fronts, with 450 homes officially evacuated and hundreds of other residents choosing to self-evacuate.

Homes, forest blocks, shelter belts and fence lines have been in the aim of the yet to be controlled blaze.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury provincial president Lynda Murchison said some farmers have had to move stock from the path of the fire.

"Feds have had shepherds and dogs on standby," she said.

"As far as I know one farming family lost a house on their property and had to move stock.

"An alpaca farm was evacuated on Early Valley Road.

"As far as Feds know, our sources say there have been no stock losses. It's been more luck than anything else, that the area of the fire was plantation and lifestyle blocks, not farmland.

"We know about the farmer's situation, but not how the lifestylers have got on," Murchison said.

The Port Hills fires have drawn fire units from Mid-Canterbury, depleting the firefighting capacity in the area, said Federated Farmers.

Farmers are being urged not to burn stubble until the spate of north-westerly winds has abated.

"There is a lot of stock on Banks Peninsula but fortunately not in the line of the fire," said Milne.

"The drought could also mean that farmers have de-stocked over the past couple of years."

Pam Richardson of Pigeon Bay has been the acting coordinator for the North Canterbury Rural Support Trust and Federated Farmers for the duration of the fire. She said so far there had been no indication of stock losses but it was too early to tell.

"There will be some but we are not sure of the extent," she said, "Most farmers have been chasing stock for several days now and were organised enough to keep them from harm's way. We will know more about stock losses when people are able to go back to their properties."

Eight shepherds and dogs were on standby to assist farmers with moving stock, she said.

A farming couple on Cashmere Hill was devastated after having lost their grazing to the fire and were looking for an alternative for their fat lambs.

"It has been traumatic for these guys and they are under a lot of pressure," Richardson said.

She said she was "a collector of information" with a number of people working around her.

"I'm not on the road," she said. "I've spoken to a lot of people and let them know there is support if they need it."

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