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Drought-Stricken Christmas Tree Grower Forced To Close Due To Bushfires

This weekend is meant to be Sydney Christmas tree grower Lynette Keneally's busiest time of the year. But instead, her plantation is blocked by fires so no one can pick them up.

Keneally is tired, frustrated and angry after a long week fighting to protect her farm from the threat of bushfires.

On top of this, for three summers, she has battled drought conditions on her Oakdale property, on Sydney's western outskirts. She has also fought fires as a trained volunteer with the NSW Rural Fire Service.

But she said the two disasters have never coincided quite like this.

"I'm starting to get quite angry -- not at anybody, just at the situation," she told 10 daily.

We've done everything we possibly can to keep on our feet, and now the stars are all aligning to conspire against us.
For the first time, Lynette Keneally has resorted to putting up a 'no smoking' sign at the entrance to her Christmas tree plantation. Image: Supplied

Keneally runs Top Forty Orchard, where she farms fruit trees and Christmas trees on about 25 acres. In the lead up to Christmas, the first two weekends of December are usually her busiest.

But for the last three days, her orchard and plantation have been closed due to bushfires. The only road in -- Burragorang Rd -- is closed, as is her children's school for the first time.

On Wednesday night, several fires were burning out of control in the area around Lake Burragorang. A watch and act alert remained in place as the blazes burned on the western side of the lake.

So far, the fires have destroyed more than 22,100 hectares, according to the NSW RFS.

Keneally's property is on the eastern side of the lake. She said it's no longer a question of if the fire will burn through the area, but when.

"The waiting around is the worst. We're all on tenterhooks," she said.

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Keneally said she has been vigilant even before the fires started last week when dry storms came through the area.

But she said her fire preparedness has been different this year, with the family left with no water in their dam to put in wet lines to protect the property.

Now, they're left relying on bore water that will only be used to put out the active flame.

Despite her preparedness, Keneally said she feels "insecure" at home as the fire threat looms.

"The last time we had big fires out in the valley, we had a lot better weather conditions -- we hadn't been in drought for three years," she said.

"Everything was a little greener back then. Now it is dried out, and even the lowest of low grass will carry fire because it's so dry."

A waterbombing aircraft flies above Keneally's plantation. Image: Supplied

In the last few days, Keneally has walked around her farm, ticking off assets she plans to defend, and reconciling with those she can let go.

In a sad twist of fate, the only 'asset' in relatively good health is her Christmas trees -- and Keneally can't sell them.

The season was already off to a poor start, with the quantity for sale limited due to the effects of drought in recent years.

In a normal season, Keneally said she would plant about 1,000 trees in early August. Last year, she suffered huge losses; the year before, she didn't plant a single tree.

Keneally has auctioned off one of her Christmas trees to raise money for local drought relief, 'Dilly Drought Drive'. Image: Supplied

This year, she said she was dealt the same fate.

"I ordered 2,500 trees this August and they are still sitting here in their tubes. I haven't been able to get them in the ground because the soil is so dry," she said.

That has left Keneally with about 400 slightly smaller trees in the ground, most of which have been already tagged by customers to pick up.

But they won't be able to until the fire threat eases.

"I'm really concerned we will not be able to open this weekend," Keneally said.

"Normally our helpers are stretched serving customers ... I don't know what we're going to do."

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Keneally has even considered ringing customers and dropping their trees on the other side of the roadblock but said she is "torn" by her responsibility to protect her property.

"When we do get open again, we will be super busy," she said.

"I'm hoping our customers will be understanding and patient with us; we will need that community support to survive this." 

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au