Farmers' phone woes

Nine days after the Cobbler Road fire destroyed 14,000 hectares west of Yass, residents on Childowla Road finally had telephone services.

Margot Shannon said she’s not sure when the phones went out during that frightening Tuesday night but the delay getting it restored caused headaches they didn’t need.

Patchy mobile phone reception meant it was very difficult to keep on top of what was going on.

“In order to use the mobile phone you have to sit it in a spot and put it on loudspeaker… This was while the fire was going around us,” she said.

As the power had gone out, the only way to stay in touch was to charge the mobile in their car in the garage.

“You know you’re going to lose your power… that’s a problem because we had no water [but] we had buckets filled, everything filled.”

What they didn’t expect was days without a landline because the fire had melted several lengths of telephone cable.

Mrs Shannon said her and her neighbours had been calling Telstra to report the outage for days, without success.

“We were told ‘we should get onto it by the end of the week’,” she said, adding it felt like the company was “not really seeming to care too much.”

Telstra said it fixed a fault at the exchange in Bookham overnight after it was reported on January 9.

“I understand there were still some customers off the air as their services were impacted by the fire,” Telstra area general manager for the ACT and southern NSW, Chris Taylor, said.

“We were asked to go out and restore the services before the weekend. However, that area was declared unsafe.

“At that stage we didn’t understand that there were cables burnt out.”

“What Telstra should have realised was of course it was burnt… They didn’t even come and check,” Mrs Shannon said.

Mr Taylor said as soon as the Rural Fire Service gave the company the all clear, on Sunday after the fire, they sent a crew to inspect the damage.

“We certainly understand and appreciate [customers being unhappy]. The simple fact is that we won’t send our staff in and put their lives at risk.”

He said it took “two or three days to restore services”.

“Most of us are very loyal customers out here,” Mrs Shannon said.

She said they had stuck with the company because in an emergency they hoped they would be looked after.

Above the ground?

Residents believe the phone cable was lying on top of the ground when it melted.

According to Telstra, cables are only above the ground temporarily, and are buried as soon as possible after work is completed.

Mr Taylor couldn’t confirm how much cable was above the ground, or how recently work had been completed prior to the fire.

Helping BlazeAid volunteers

Telstra was setting up mobile and internet services for the volunteer organisation BlazeAid in Bookham.

BlazeAid will be repairing fences in the fire-ravaged area for anywhere up to six months, from a base camp at Bookham.

Telstra set up temporary phone, mobile and internet connections for the volunteers.

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