Military-like preparations aimed at keeping horses, centre safe
Hamish Sinclair shows 11-year-old horse owner Olivia Wilde how to best use a fire hose. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
On land separating the city from the bush at Tharwa, which was aflame in the January 2003 firestorm, Hamish Sinclair and his partner, Janice Firth, are staking their lives and those of 80 horses on agistment on a thorough stay-and-defend bushfire plan.
Ms Firth was among the 20 people on the property in 2003 when it was completely burnt, with no loss of livestock.
''Our property was part of the inquiry after 2003, and was one of first properties to get hit,'' Mr Sinclair said. ''It burned for four days.
''We have long experience of fighting fires and being self-reliant because our ability to evacuate is limited. We are sticking with the plan that saw us through 2003.''
On the 404-hectare Freshford Equestrian Centre the couple has been applying parts of the plan, slashing growth around boundaries and identifying ''asset-protection zones'' and those areas which will be allowed to burn.
Asset-protection zones include open areas of hard, bare ground which will not burn and where livestock can be taken.
The stables comprise the core asset-protection zone. For the past two weeks they have been cleared of any flammable material, such as bedding and blankets.
Water drums, sprays, backpacks and fire blankets have been positioned and 100,000 litres of water sit ready in tanks, with pumps nearby.
Two homes are in separate zones. They have been allocated fire hoses, but will not be defended as fiercely as those places where animals are kept.
Evacuation routes through paddocks have been slashed. Internal roads are hard, clay surfaces and their verges have been slashed for six metres on either side.
A single public road leads to the property.
''Our expectation is we would be cut off because it is a tree-lined road, with the trees close to edge of road,'' Mr Sinclair said. ''We have to rely on our own resources, we don't have the luxury of evacuation.
''So we have a stay-and-defend position and we can activate agistees, of which we have 50 … potential people who may assist us - every horse owner, basically. They get very protective of their animals.
''We have to plan for how we manage those people as separate groups on the property, so we have a light unit that is available, we have trailer-mounted units to move water around the property and a command vehicle which we use to keep all asset-protection zones in contact with each other during the fire.''
Canberra has the highest numbers of horse owners per capita of cities in Australia and many owners rely on agistment for their horses.
For more information: http://www.esa.act.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/bushfire-planning-on-act-horse-agistment-centres.pdf