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    Fire Rescue Victoria incident controller Mark Gunning, Premier Jacinta Allan and Minister for Emergency Services Jaclyn Symes inspect fire damage at Dadswells Bridge.
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    FIRST-HAND: From left, Fire Rescue Victoria incident controller Mark Gunning, Premier Jacinta Allan, CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan and Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes inspect fire damage at Dadswells Bridge. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

Premier sees Grampians fire devastation

By Lauren Henry

Following a 48-hour period of challenging weather conditions across Victoria, Premier Jacinta Allan made her way to the Wimmera last week to view first-hand the areas burnt by the Grampians fires.

Ms Allan was joined by Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes, Emergency Services Commissioner Rick Nugent, and Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan.

The contingent visited Horsham incident control centre on Wednesday then the fire grounds at Dadswells Bridge and Pomonal on Thursday.

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They also met with the mayors of Horsham, Northern Grampians and Ararat councils, and Member for Lowan Emma Kealy.

Ms Allan thanked emergency services who had fought the fires, paying special tribute to Dadswells Bridge CFA captain Peter Jackman and his team for responding to the fire as their own properties were under threat. 

“I also wanted to thank the local community for heeding the warnings on Monday and into Tuesday that Rick and others sent – a very clear message into these local communities that Tuesday was going to be a catastrophic rating day, and that means the worst of the worst days you can have when it comes to fire and weather – indeed only the second of those types of days since Black Saturday, some 15 years ago,” she said.

Ms Allan said Victoria had experienced fires in the western part of the state, as well as a massive storm front and destructive winds – all within 48 hours.

She said a range of emergency payments, such as personal hardship payments, had immediately been made available to fire victims, and more was likely to follow after full assessments had taken place.

Ms Symes advised people who had lost houses to contact the government’s recovery hotline, where case workers were assigned who could answer people’s questions.

“In past experiences we’ve had houses destroyed in floods and previous fires, what would ordinarily happen and... what would be expected in this situation is if you were uninsured and a vulnerable person, you would be supported to ensure your house is cleaned up, made safe and there are grants of up to $45,000 for people that fit into that eligible criteria,” she said.

“There will be a range of supports – I have been in contact with the Commonwealth government in relation to the activation of joint funding arrangement.”

Mr Nugent thanked the volunteers and paid workers who fought the fires, describing it as ‘absolutely fantastic work’ by highly skilled and professional people to deal with a fire that could have been ‘a lot worse’.

“I was fortunate enough to fly over the fire grounds in the Grampians and look at the devastation, but what was really clear to the me and the other chiefs that were with me was the assets that were protected by the agencies,” he said.

“The assets that were protected from the fire – you can see it had come right up to their doorsteps and its gone around because of the great work the firefighters have done.”

Mr Nugent also paid tribute to those people who worked at the Horsham incident control centre who helped co-ordinate all the agencies who helped fight the fires.

“They were very well prepared. We knew it was catastrophic conditons. They prepared well, but so did the community,” he said.

“I feel for the residents who have lost homes – it is devastating to lose a home.”

Horsham incident controller Mark Gunning said emergency services would make sure roads reopened as soon as possible so people could reconnect with family members and return to their properties.

The Western Highway reopened about lunchtime on Thursday, with speed restrictions.

“We need to get people back in. People need to start taking the next steps. We’ve had significant loss in and around Pomonal, and some people know they have lost a home or that their home is still there. Others – it’s unknown – and they’ve been living with that unknown for 48 hours,” Mr Gunning said.

“We need to reassure those people that whether the answer is good or bad, there is an answer and we’ve got support there.”

Mr Gunning said in regards to providing housing to displaced people, many accommodation providers in Halls Gap had opened their doors to Pomonal people.

“So it’s communities looking after communities – there’s a lot going on there and we want to make sure those connections are made,” he said.

Federal Member for Mallee Anne Webster’s request to Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt to activate Commonwealth funding for bushfire victims was successful, with Pomonal residents who have been significantly impacted by the fires able to apply for the Australian Government’s Disaster Recovery Payment from 2pm today.

Dr Webster visited Pomonal and the Horsham incident control centre on Friday, and also met with Northern Grampians mayor Rob Haswell.

Available for people who suffered serious damage or injury as a result of the bushfires, eligible adult residents can receive $1000 and children $400 to help with immediate costs of recovery.

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The entire February 21, 2024 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!