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Kyabram residents head to NSW to provide bushfire relief

By Jared Prestwidge

THE bushfires ravaging the country have been at the forefront of public conscious since August, with more still ahead.

And while frightening images of blinding red flames swallowing homes and videos of animals fleeing in panic are at the top of social media feeds right now, what happens when it’s all over?

When the fires die down or move on, what gets left behind?

Charred livestock carcasses on the side of the road, fallen powerlines, road closures, food and water shortages – for many people the tough times have only just started.

Dylan Fitzgerald, who owns Outback Carpentry in Kyabram, has seen first hand what the people hardest hit by the bushfires now have to face.

So, on Wednesday, January 8, Dylan packed up some hay in his truck and travelled to Batlow in southern NSW to do something about it – not once, not twice, but three times.

Batlow and its surrounds recently fought an ‘undefendable’ bushfire earlier this month, which destroyed the old hospital, blew up the petrol station and burnt 17 houses in town and an untold number of outlying properties.

Thankfully no lives were lost, but the damage was well and truly done.

Dylan said the aftermath had to be seen to be believed.

“Ninety per cent of the country on most of the properties I went to was burnt. There was nothing left,” he said.

“All of the roads were closed as well. We had to get through road blocks to get in.”

Once he got home, Dylan took to social media to ask people in the community to donate what they could for another trip up north – and the response was greater than anything he expected.

“On the Thursday afternoon I started asking people for donations on Facebook and got it all organised on Saturday, then we went again on Sunday,” Dylan said.

“I was amazed by the response from people wanting to help.

“Everyone got behind it pretty quick.”

Thanks to the Kyabram community, Dylan was able to travel back up north with 600 litres of fuel, hundreds of dollars of groceries and 330 bales of hay.

Four other residents also offered to travel with him to lend a hand.

“We were going to do a couple trips with people’s donations ... but were luckily able to get it all together for one trip,” Dylan said.

“Some vehicles had food in them, some had fuel, some had hay.”

Dylan said witnessing the aftermath of such destruction was an eye-opening experience, but one that was well and truly worth it.

“There were plenty of tears. This one man was crying when I pulled up to his driveway with some hay,” he said.

“It was a pretty humbling experience ... It’s a good feeling when you can help them get back on their feet.

“I met one bloke who lost his best mate who was fighting the fires.”

Jozef and Daniela Vrbiak were just one family out of countless others left devastated by the fires.

Both in their 70s, they defended their Willigobung farm with just a garden hose and tractor.

That was two weeks ago, and they had only just gotten their power back this past Sunday.

They rely on their daughter Barbara to keep them in contact with the outside world and certainly were not expecting to see Dylan and his mates rolling up the driveway with fresh supplies.

“I know my parents were totally taken aback. I had my mother just touched that these young fellas travelled all that way out of the goodness of their own hearts,” Barbara said.

“My Dad has burnt out pastures, his hay shed burned down ... but along comes Dylan and he pretty much saved the day.

“The fires were the tragedy but there is such a big aftermath on so many levels ... we had neighbours having to shoot their cattle and horses.

“It’s basically picking up and starting again for so many of them.”

Dylan encountered many different people all with different stories along the remote NSW region.

One was the owner of the Tooma Inn who had opened her business as a relief centre for locals and firefighters, another was the owner of a heritage stud in Tumbarumba who was forced to shoot 12 of their injured cattle.

And while Dylan isn’t planning on doing a fourth supply trip just yet, he intends to continue helping them in other ways.

“I do plan on going back and helping put their fences back up, but I’ve got to wait until the fires stop burning ... and insurance issues are sorted out,” he said.

“Once the fires are all burnt out, I think we all need to go out into the bush and spend money in these towns otherwise they’re never going to recover.

“Instead of going on a holiday on the coast, maybe head inland and have a look at the hill country.”