Victorian Bushfires Update 3

A different sort of report today.

My sister lost everything including all the basics – crockery, cups, mugs, glasses, cutlery, pots and pans – everything. I decided that on the way to see them I would stop off and see if I could buy some bits and pieces. I stopped at Greensborough shopping centre and wandered around. Eventually I found a House store. They had everything I needed all on sale – for more than 50% off. I started saying to the sales assistant that I wanted two crockery sets, four different sets of glasses, a cutlery set and so forth – for my sister who had lost everything in the bushfires. At this the sales assistant and her manager both started to cry and said that they would give me a discount – they would give it all to me for nothing if they could, but they weren’t allowed to. The sales assistant then asked if they needed a place to live – she lived by herself nearby and had plenty of space. I thanked her for her incredibly kind offer and told her that my sister actually had some accommodation, but if she wanted to help, the ABC was collecting offers of goods and services on their web site – www.abc.net.au . I eventually walked out of that shop with a trolley full of goods at half the half-price amount!

As I walked past the Vodafone shop, I remembered that my nephew, who had lost his phone in the fire, was with them. I asked what we should do and they said that it was easy, just come in and get a new blank SIM card which they will reprogram to the old number and buy a new phone. Anyway, later that day I came back with my nephew and went to the shop. They did the SIM reprogramming for nothing and sold me a new phone at cost price (once again they weren’t allowed to go below that). They also said that if they could, they would have given us a phone for nothing too.

I also returned to the office today. My colleagues and staff all expressed an interest in helping in some way. That’s some way beyond donating money. The general feeling was one of powerlessness – they wanted to be physically doing something to assist – even if it was simply making lunches for survivors or firefighters. I’m trying to find out more about this, but the best advice I have been given is to register on the Volunteering Australia website – www.volunteeringaustralia.org.

I have never experienced such a high level of community spirit before. I remember this feeling immediately after the Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, but certainly not to this degree.

Ruth is heading out to Woori Yallock tomorrow which is where some of the effort for the Healesville and Bunyip fires is being coordinated from. Hopefully I’ll have some first-hand accounts of those fires then. There is not much point in me returning to the fire zone until I can get access – there is no indication of when that will be. The police did allow a small number of people into Kinglake today – but only from Whittlesea. No access has been permitted north of St Andrews yet.

The Bunyip fire was threatening Gembrook earlier today, but is apparently not posing a threat to population centres at the moment. I also believe that Tonimbuk is no longer under threat. Unfortunately however a vast amount of Bunyip State Park has been destroyed. I have no concrete information on Buttongrass Track (the most reliable spot for Southern Emu-wren and Beautiful Firetail) – but given the area of destruction I am almost certain that it has been burned.

I spoke to a friend today who lives at Crystal Creek, just south of Yackandandah and north-east of Beechworth. The fire has moved north wiping out the settlement of Stanley and was 12km south of Crystal Creek. The Myrtleford-Yackandandah Road had been cut. Alerts are still in effect for this area, but the fire is moving quite slowly. The thoughts are that this fire is behaving more like a “conventional” bushfire than the firestorm that hit Kinglake on the weekend.

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