Green Wattle blaze wipes out 'precious' Wombeyan animals

Red-necked wallabies, a wombat and Eastern grey kangaroos gather at a feeding station strategically placed by Rocklily Wombats in the Wombeyan caves area. Photo: Dianna Bisset.
Red-necked wallabies, a wombat and Eastern grey kangaroos gather at a feeding station strategically placed by Rocklily Wombats in the Wombeyan caves area. Photo: Dianna Bisset.

Dianna Bisset can't hide her emotion talking about the impact of the Green Wattle Creek fire on wildlife in the Wombeyan Caves area.

"It's devastating," she said.

"It will take decades to recover."

What animals haven't been incinerated in the surrounding 278,409 hectare Green Wattle Creek fire have been starving and are in desperate need of help.

Mrs Bisset and husband, Warwick, are doing round-the-clock shifts trying to keep surviving animals alive.

They have operated Rocklily Wombats, a 40.5 hectare wildlife sanctuary, 34km northeast of Taralga on Rocklily Road for the past eight years. It is 8km east of Wombeyan Caves, set in the southwestern corner of the Blue Mountains National Park.

The Green Wattle Creek fire has burnt through thousands of hecates of national park around the Wombeyan Caves area. Photo: Rosey Stronach.

The Green Wattle Creek fire has burnt through thousands of hecates of national park around the Wombeyan Caves area. Photo: Rosey Stronach.

Over the past two months, the fire has threatened their home and the animal sanctuary about four times. In late December, the Bissets defended both against a "firestorm" on a hill above their house. They had little sleep over four days and three nights.

"It was coming in every direction around us - up creeklines, burning things twice and lots of spot fires that burnt deeply into soil, consuming all it could," Mrs Bisset said.

"They kept reigniting with a breath of wind days later. It slowly just became spot fires and over the eight days, our road was totally blocked with fallen trees."

The couple stayed to defend, confident in what they said was extensive preparation. Their home was built to fire safety standards, they'd undertaken widespread clearing, installed a sprinkler system and much more.

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While the house and 1.6ha of the sanctuary was saved, the rest of the property and much of the Wombeyan Caves area has been devastated.

Mrs Bisset laments the loss of diverse animal species, including koalas, endangered brush-tailed rock wallabies, Eastern grey kangaroos and Greater Gliders. She describes this section of national park as one of the most biodiverse.

"The loss is large scale," she said.

"I'm working with property owners who stayed and defended their properties in an 8km fire zone. We've seen about 12 red-necked wallabies and three wombats. That's all that's come out of the fire and that's just one area. We should have a lot more."

A large mob of kangaroos pushed ahead of the fire front at Bindock were not burnt but Mrs Bisset said they were subsequently discovered in two locations, "dying on their feet." They were suffering myopathy, a condition which disintegrates muscles when an animal is stressed.

"We think they are dying because they're in a terrible condition," Mrs Bisset said.

Wildlife are drawn into the feeding stations by specially placed water sources. Photo: Dianna Bisset.

Wildlife are drawn into the feeding stations by specially placed water sources. Photo: Dianna Bisset.

The couple has euthanised some but provided food and water for the survivors and other animals.

She has also encountered some burnt koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and wombats, but suspects many of the latter starved in burrows.

The Bissets and National Parks and Wildlife Service have been working in the area trying to save what they can. They track the animals' location through their droppings.

"Well meaning" people have also been dropping food by the roadside, Mrs Bisset said. But she warned the fruit and vegatables, food scraps, dog biscuits and more were inappropriate for the wildlife and only drew them to the road where they could be run over.

Wombats are sniffing out the feeding boxes placed by wildlife carers. Photo: Dianna Bisset.

Wombats are sniffing out the feeding boxes placed by wildlife carers. Photo: Dianna Bisset.

"This food will rot and the animals will only die from salmonella poisoning. Some of it is also wrapped in plastic," she said.

"...My message is, don't do anything without consulting a wildlife group in the area."

The Bissets and others have been placing bales of meadow hay, kilos of carbohydrate-rich sweet potato and kangaroo nuts around specially created water sources, which also keep out ash. The animals are enticed by the smell of water. Mrs Bisset said this provided long-term help because wildlife was starving and fire had dried up most dams in the area. They have also put out birdseed.

But an outside and unwanted threat has arisen. Hunters have been seen in the area, illegally shooting kangaroos as they wander to the road. Some have even accessed closed roads. Mrs Bisset said National Parks officers were patrolling and such people risked being heavily fined and losing gun licences.

A Department of Planning, Industry and Environment spokesman said the Green Wattle Creek Fire, "although relatively quiet and being controlled, was still an active fireground."

"Whilst we consider the needs of animals and the environment, we are continuing to work towards containment as a priority to prevent further risk to life and property," he said in a statement.

"The Wombeyan Caves Precinct remains closed and it is unsafe for people to enter the area.

"NSW RFS is working with NPWS and other partner agencies to ensure the welfare of animals and other environmental issues are managed appropriately where safe to do so."

The service is supplying water stations for animals and urges anyone with information about firearms offences to contact police.

Meantime, a group formed on Facebook is helping and a bushwalking contingent will assist in collecting rubbish and distributing food.

"We've just lost so much. I'm not sure if there are any (Greater) gliders left and I'm looking in all the tree hollows to see if there's anywhere left for them to nest," Mrs Bisset said.

"...It's heartbreaking but all we can do is to try and save what we have left."

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