Devastated Farmer Forced To Shoot His Cattle After They Are Severely Burned In Bushfire
**WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES**
Cattle farmer Steve Shipton did his best to save his cattle as bushfire raged through his hometown of Coolagolite on New Year's Eve.
Forced to flee his property as flames raced through the area, he left his 250-odd cows on a patch of dirt, with a feed rack, where he thought they would be safe.
When he returned, most of the cattle had been where Mr Shipton left them - but the animals "obviously panicked", he said.
A vet on Wednesday was assessing which would survive and which needed to be euthanised.
"There are some in there badly scorched," Mr Shipton said.
"He'll know better than me what can survive and what can't because I've never been through this scenario.
"You don't want them to suffer."
Mr Shipton had stayed behind to try and defend his home from the ferocious Countegany/Dampier State Forest fire, which killed four and burned an area twice the size of Canberra.
When he made the choice to leave, his eyes were burning and he was sure he wouldn't make it.
"I thought I was a goner," the Coolagolite cattle farmer told AAP.
"The heat was horrendous. My eyes... I couldn't see 20 feet last night."
Three men and an unidentified person died out of a population of about 1050.
Mr Shipton thought he was fine to protect his home after getting his wife and kids inside and his stock out to a dirt clearing.
"It all happened so quick," the 46-year-old said, soot still covering his face.
"I stayed out. I suppose I shouldn't have but it just happened so fast.
"It's just unbelievable. The ferocity and how quick... That's what shocked me and that's why I thought we were in a good situation to survive," he said.
The dairy-turned-beef farmer estimates he lost about a tenth of his 250-odd head of cattle, including his favourite dairy cow.
The firefront spared Cobargo artist Sally Wilson's shop but embers took hold of the historic property as she and her partner Christopher Lee protected their home and animals a short walk away.
As things calmed down at home, Mr Lee walked over to the shop to find it alight.
"The firefighters said it had started 20 minutes before," she told AAP, standing beside the rubble.
"He stood out the front and watched it burn."
The couple moved to Cobargo just 18 months ago after deciding it was "a really safe pocket" with a vibrant, caring community.
"I've been visiting here for years and it was like nothing could get you," she said.
Local farmer Greg Tett said the community was a very tight-knit one, where people "dove in" to help those whose chips were down.
"That's the way it's been for a long time and why I think a lot of people like to come here," he told AAP.
He suspects he'll have to entirely de-stock after 95 per cent of his 110-acre property was scorched.
"At least we're still alive," his wife Karen Tett said.
Mr Tett woke about 1am on Tuesday to a phone call from his daughter warning about the approaching fire.
His brother spent five hours building a fire break in vain.
"When it came down the mountain, we had spot fires everywhere," Mr Tett said.
He said his family will fight on.
"We've got to."