Thursday, July 09, 2009

bushfire claims in the dandenongs

It was interesting to read the front page story in the Herald Sun this morning about the claims for the Bushfire Disaster Recovery Payment by residents in the Dandenong Ranges. The story also featured on most of the television news networks tonight.

I was alarmed at the tenor of the stories suggesting that people in the Dandenongs were not entitled to the payment. I acknowledge that there may be some out there who claimed the payments fraudulently, however there were many legitimate claims from people in the Dandenongs.

During February our community was living on tenterhooks. After seeing the devastation of the Black Saturday fires, we knew that it was very possible the Dandenongs could suffer the same fate.

A fire in Sherbrooke Forest exacerbated the fear in the community along with the two enforced school closures across the region. The day of the fire in Belgrave South (23/02/09), thousands of people fled the Dandenongs. Many did not return the next day, their fear too great.

This is me on my front veranda, hosing down the house, my wind up solar powered radio to my ear, tuned to 774, smoke in the air and the persistent sound of helicopters dowsing the fire just over the hill.

The light was eerie and orange and the prevailing wind at the time heading towards Belgrave South/Heights and Selby. Very scary when 774 announced fire danger for the street I live on. We were lucky the wind changed and the danger subsided.

This is just one of thousands of stories and we were very, very lucky. As a Yarra Ranges councillor I have been to countless community meetings/events and toured fire affected regions in Yarra Ranges where locals were not so lucky and my heart goes out to them.

I was one of the residents who stayed behind to defend my property with my family in Selby. As news of the fire spread and smoke cloaked Belgrave South and Selby the roads became clogged with panic stricken residents trying to collect their children from school and get off the mountain.

Burwood Highway, our main thoroughfare was clogged with those trying to leave and conversely with those trying to get home to defend their properties.

It was a time of extreme tension and the stakes were high as people were already in a heightened state of anxiety from the Black Saturday bushfires, in Yarra Ranges the fires were still burning.

The Dandenongs were very lucky, due the skilled firefighting efforts of the CFA, the Belgrave South fire was controlled before it reached populated areas of the Dandenongs with only one house suffering fire damage.

Late in the evening as the fire danger subsided, I drove down to the township of Belgrave, the streets were deserted, our house was the only one in the street with the lights on. Belgrave was like a ghost town. The majority of people had left.

The next day at school it was obvious many in the community had not returned, in my son’s class only 8 students were there in what is usually a class of 24 students. This was repeated at schools in the area.

I recognise that people in the Dandenongs did not lose property, however the payment was not for that alone. I know of families who stayed in hotels for the night, too frightened to stay in their homes. Those people did not return to work the next day, still fearful.

It was a very stressful time, we all felt the anguish and pain of our community who had been tragically affected by the Black Saturday fires but many remained fearful of the potential for tragedy in the Dandenongs and took flight at a moment’s notice on many occasions this summer.

It is disgraceful to think that people may have claimed the payment deceptively but let that not cast a shadow on all those in the Dandenongs who legitimately made a claim.

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At 1:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe there needs to be more control over claims by the authorities. I did not claim, however was told by many I was an idiot for not claiming. I did not feel the need to claim something for nothing, even though I could have certainly used the money. I understand many others did need to claim. I think however, that as usual, those who treated it as quick "grab it while you can" cash, need to be weeded out. I would have received $2,800 if I had put in a claim. Nobody can begrudge those payments to many residents, but many I have heard of were not even at risk, not particularly stressed, but somehow managed to get hold of that cash, which could certainly have been better spent elsewhere. Our authorities need to put better processes into place for next year, as if we have to evacuate three or four times over the course of a season, does this mean we would be eligible to claim four times ??? So 4x $2,800 (I might give up my day job)....


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