BILL Waters takes a long drag of his smoke as he surveys the walking dead.
There are 550 sheep in a paddock beside a wool shed at Ournie and Mr Waters says 90 per cent of them will have to be put down.
That would take his losses to about 900, about half his flock of 1800.
“It’s more soul-destroying to see them in pain,” he said, leaning against a gate, sweat wet on his chest.
A big hill, painted black from fire that had ripped up, down and around it, looms in front of him.
Lightning cracked down from the sky last Saturday night and hit the hill near Jingellic. It was like flicking a lit match on a gallon of diesel as the dry grass ignited.
The rocky terrain and steepness made for a difficult firefight and it wasn’t contained until Monday morning.
Mr Waters, his cousin and another farmer could only watch their land burn.
About a quarter of his 890 hectare farm was burned and the two others lost the same amount of country.
“We’ve all had a touch-up,” Mr Waters said.
He didn’t think any of his 1800 sheep had made it out alive and it wasn’t until Tuesday that he was able to get onto cooler fire-ground to muster what was left.
“I was surprised I brought any of the buggers out at all,” he said.
This is a hidden reality of fire in the bush.
There will be reports of land burned, stock losses and properties damaged but what is often not seen is the effect on farmers.
And setbacks being seen as part of the farming “game” doesn’t make it any easier.
Mr Waters is not alone.
Department of Primary Industries emergency controller Kevin Cooper said the latest fires were expected to bring losses of 10,000 sheep and lambs statewide, with one property confirming a 1500 head loss.
He said about 1000 sheep had been lost at the fires at Mates Gully Road, Tarcutta and Wokolean, near Wagga.
Firefighters confirmed more than 70 sheep had been lost at Jerilderie but that number was expected to climb.
“With many fires still burning, we don’t yet have a handle on the full extent of the damage to fences, pastures, stock and farm infrastructure,” he said.
Mr Waters’ eldest daughter, Meg, 29, is a nurse in Wagga. She was at home helping her father.
Ms Waters said graziers didn’t see dollar signs when they looked at their stock and losing stock was heart-breaking for them.
“Graziers love their animals,” she said.
“It’s bloody awful.”
Graziers are also the eternal optimists — they have to be.
“I’ve lost a quarter of my place but no buildings and no people,” Mr Waters said.
The Waters family has been in this country since 1853 and Mr Waters left university in 1972 to help on the farm after fire ravaged the property then.
He hasn’t left the farm since and, even after two more fires and flood, he’ll never leave.
After every fire and every flood, the community always rallies and that’s what keeps him going.
This week, shearers from across the district dropped their day’s work and turned up at Mr Waters’ property to help him out.
“When things like this happen, you realise how resilient the community can be,” Ms Waters said.
“As usual, we’ve had so much support from the community.”