'It meant so much': Australian farmer loses deer farm to raging blaze

KIAH, Australia (Reuters) - Australian farmer Anthony Thomas sat on his quad bike on Wednesday looking out over what is left of his farm, wiped out by a fire that swept through four days ago, destroying everything in its path.

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In a matter of two hours, the place he has called home for 25 years, where he and his father have been raising deer on 200 hectares (500 acres) in the district of Kiah, was gone.

Now Thomas said he just felt emptiness.

“It just meant so much to me. That’s it - gone,” he said.

Compounding the heartbreak, Thomas had to put dozens of sheep and deer out of their misery. Animals not killed by the flames were so badly injured that many could not even stand up.

With no idea what he will do now, Thomas can’t help but reflect on what might have been done.

“You can point the finger all day. But I don’t know, there’s lots that could have been done, lots that should have been done,” he said.

Twenty-six people have been killed this southern summer in fires that have devastated more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land - an area the size of South Korea.

Thousands of people are homeless.

Many rural communities are without power and telecommunications. Some are running out of drinking water.

Smoke has blanketed the big cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, and drifted as far as South America.

Scientists have liked the fires to climate change, pointing to a three-year drought that has left much of the country’s bushland tinder-dry.

Ecologists at the University of Sydney on Wednesday doubled their estimate of the number of animals killed or injured in the fires to 1 billion.

“I’ve spent so much time here as kid, in the bush,” Thomas said.

“I knew if a fire came though it would be devastating.”

Editing by Robert Birsel