TDHS hosts St Patrick’s Day fires recovery roundtable

TDHS Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley

Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley today headed a roundtable in Timboon to ensure collaboration and coordination in the ongoing efforts to help community members recover from the St Patrick’s Day fires.

Mr Lapsley and key agencies involved in recovery efforts met at Timboon and District Healthcare Service for three hours. He said there was still much work to be done.

“We all know that this event is not over – it’s important that those impacted know that we are still here and will be for as long as they need us,” he said.

“Twenty-six houses were lost. Some people want to rebuild now and some don’t – some want to think about what they want to do for a bit longer. Everyone is at a different place and space and we discussed this at length.

“We workshopped the current issues, the short-term issues and the six-month plan to help all of us assess whether we’re giving the right level of support in the right places.”

Mr Lapsley said representatives from Corangamite Shire, Moyne Shire, Victoria Police, the Country Fire Authority, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had joined Emergency Management Victoria for the roundtable.

“Some of those most affected might be doing okay now, but they’ve been displaced and how will they be feeling on the coldest day in the middle of winter?”, he said.

“It is natural to be upset and have feelings of anxiety after a fire. This can be delayed though…four weeks later a power bill might arrive for a home you no longer have and that could trigger all the emotions of the event itself to resurface.

“There’s a long way to go and today was about focusing our collective efforts to make sure people feel supported and know that we aren’t going anywhere.”

Mr Lapsley said the community and local services like Timboon and District Healthcare Service had done a wonderful job supporting impacted families.

“Jo (Beard) as Mayor or Corangamite has stood up and led the community extraordinarily well, but no one person or agency can fix this. Every level and every agency wants to be involved and that’s what today was about,” he said.

“The impact will be felt for some time. For example, a lot of fencing has been replaced, but what does that mean for the local hardware store that now might have an extended period where less fencing needs to be repaired and therefore they see an ongoing downturn.

“There’s a lot to consider. What extra pressure are our Council’s under? What extra resources to do they need to help families rebuild in terms of building permits et cetera.

“We talked about insurance. Everyone is insured for different things. Some might have the house and machinery shed insured, but not the fences, dairy herd and pasture.”

Mr Lapsley said experience from other fires in Victoria’s past could be applied to help guide recovery efforts.

“Kids are back at school now and we know that’s an incredibly valuable thing to help everyone understand how they are going,” he said.

“We’ll be talking to schools and teachers moving forward to better assess if the kids are okay. Some won’t be and that’s okay, it has been a traumatic experience.

“I would just urge the wider community to understand that while the smoke may have gone, this event isn’t over and their ongoing care and support for one another is critical.”

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