Devastating scenes as farmer forced to shoot cows 'scorched' in bushfire

WARNING – DISTRESSING CONTENT: A NSW farmer has been forced to shoot his own cattle as bushfires ravaged Australia’s east coast.

The Countegany/Dampier State Forest blaze raced through Cobargo and Coolagolite in the state’s southeast on Tuesday morning on its way to burning an area twice the size of Canberra.

Coolagolite cattle farmer Steve Shipton said he thought he was a “goner”.

"The heat was horrendous. My eyes... I couldn't see 20 feet last night,” he told AAP.

NSW farmer Steve Shipton was forced to shoot dead this calf after a bushfire came through his property, leaving the animal 'badly scorched'.
Steve Shipton shoots an injured calf in his paddock after a bushfire in Coolagolite on New Year's Day. Source: AAP/Sean Davey

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.”

Steve Shipton inspects the burns on a calf.
Mr Shipton looks at the burns on an injured calf he just put down. Source: AAP
The Coolagolite cattle farmer's cows lay dead after being killed in his paddock during a bushfire.
A number of Steve Shipton's cows lay dead after being killed in his paddock during a bushfire in Coolagolite on New Year's Day. Source: AAP/Sean Davey

The dairy-turned-beef farmer estimates he lost about a tenth of his 250-odd head of cattle, including his favourite dairy cow.

Most of the cattle had been where Mr Shipton thought would be safe – on dirt with a feed rack – but the animals "obviously panicked".

A vet on Wednesday assessed 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 has since been forced to put injured cattle down with a gun.

Steve Shipton (centre) is consoled by NSW farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca (right) in Coolagolite.
Mr Shipton (centre) is consoled by fellow farmers Bernie Smith (left) and Peter Mercieca. Source: AAP

Fire destroys historic Cobargo store

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."

Sally Anne Wilson (left) stands in front of her destroyed Cobargo shop with partner Christopher Lee.
Business owner Sally Anne Wilson stands with her partner, Christoper Lee, as they look at the remains of her store in Cobargo. Source: AAP

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.

NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire as it impacts a structure at Bilpin.
A Bilpin property gets enveloped in flames. Source: AAP

"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,” he said.

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