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11/02/2009

Grapegrower recounts Yarra Valley fire

By Sonya Logan

Yarra Valley grapegrower Andrew McIntosh has described the fires that have burned and continue to threaten the Yarra Valley as “devastating” and “incomprehensible”.

As part owner of Helen’s Hill Estate, just south of the township of Coldstream, McIntosh estimated 10% of the winery’s 40ha vineyard had been damaged by a fire which was started on Saturday when strong winds brought a tree down onto a transformer on the Warburton Highway about 3km south of the property.

“It was a huge fire,” McIntosh remarked, who along with family and neighbours remained on the estate, situated just north of a 160ha natural bush reserve, to fight the blaze. “A strong northerly wind had been blowing all day then suddenly turned south and blew a tree over which hit a transformer and started dropping sparks onto the ground. In two to three hours it burnt out the entire area.

“We haven’t lost any houses, but my brother-in-law’s place – (that of Helen’s Hill Estate’s general and marketing manager Allan Nalder) – which backs onto the western border of the estate, came very close to being lost. A number of CFA units were required to help keep the fire from his house.”

The Helen’s Hill Estate vineyard, however, did not escape the blaze unscathed.

“What vines haven’t been damaged by fire may have been damaged by smoke,” McIntosh feared.

He said a 200m wide easement at the southern end the property saved it from further destruction.

“The easement runs the length of the bottom end of the property. There was some lucerne growing in it just a few days before the fire but fortunately it got slashed.

“The fires have caused a massive amount of devastation in the Yarra Valley. The damage to people’s lives, lifestyles and all sorts of agricultural enterprises is incomprehensible. There have been many vineyards and wineries damaged,” McIntosh said, commenting that prior to the fires the Yarra Valley was facing up to 50% loss in its crush for 2009 due to sun damage and heat stress.

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