Pages 6 and 7 of The Countryman this week 20-05-2021

Pages 6 and 7 of The Countryman this week 20-05-2021

Nearly four months after WA’s catastrophic Wooroloo bushfire, only a handful of the 86 burnt-out homes have been completely demolished and cleared.

Tents or temporary pods remain positioned metres from blackened rubble in Tilden Park, one of the hardest hit estates from the blaze, which tore through almost 11,000ha of the Perth Hills after ignition on February 1

Many residents face red-tape delays from insurance payouts due to assessment lags and rebuild setbacks through a long demolition and rubble-clearing waitlist.

Beyond the property clearing, WA’s building industry backlog adds unease on the road to recovery.

For the uninsured or underinsured, many have been left questioning when and if further government relief will arrive.

So far, $6 million of the $16.4m in donations through the Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund remains out of victims’ hands.

The City of Perth this week confirmed $10.1m had so far been paid, of which $5.4m was provided to residents in the past week.

For people with partial damage it had been a longer wait for relief, with a $10,000 grant issued to 62 people at the 11-week mark.

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It took three months for the first bushfire-affected property to be fully cleared — as of May 14 only 13 had been fully completed.

A further six properties have undergone demolition work and are awaiting removal of asbestos containing materials.

Residents with partial damage of a secondary structure, such as a shed or stable, may have to wait to

July to be cleared. Tilden Park resident Jo Murphy experienced more than $400,000 damage at her Gidgegannup property and spent at least $30,000 on a credit card just to make her home liveable.

She said the Lord Mayor’s $10,000 grant last week didn’t come soon enough and unless the delay was a plan to acquire more in interest — it didn’t make sense.

“Move faster. Most of us just want to get on with our lives. A bushfire inquiry would be a good idea because I think what comes out of that will be invaluable,” she said.

Wanting to move on and remove the daily mental triggers the couple held a “demolish party” — getting friends to help rather than waiting for government teams to reach them in July.

Gidgegannup couple Jan Pittman and Dave Reid only received the $10,000 grant after 11 weeks of clean-up.

While Ms Pittman was grateful for the support, the couple have demanded an inquiry into the fire.

Ms Pittman has also done her own fundraising for people hard hit as a member of the Watercolour Society of WA and the Botanical Art Society of Australia.

Like many during the height of the inferno, Mr Reid holds particular concern about the treatment of residents at roadblocks.

The couple who have both served in fire brigades — Ms Pittman 15 years and Mr Reid five — had battled throughout the night to save their Reen Road home and earthmoving business and said the bushfire had left a lasting toll on them.

“It was really scary. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I’ve lost 10kg,” Ms Pittman said.

Mr Reid said being unable to travel to and from his property to get fuel and equipment still angered him.

“That was more stressful than a fire. It was like being put in prison when you’re innocent,” he said.

Among sheds and equipment, Mr Reid’s retirement dream caravan that he had been working on for the past 20 years was gutted.

Planning to venture to the Goldfields for expeditions, he had only registered the vehicles late last year but said clearly life had other plans for him.

Gidgegannup Recreation Club volunteer leader Sharon Pegrum said residents were still living with the bare minimum and expected to remain that way for the next two years.

“The house debris is not even cleared. We’re talking 86 houses that need to be rebuilt. I would like to see (Lord Mayor funds) go to families. At the end of the day, if families had that money, we wouldn’t need to be here,” Ms Pegrum said.

“The risk is now that people forget. They go ‘oh the bushfire was ages ago, people don’t need any more help’.”

Becoming the support hub during recovery, the club helped more than 100 families with support networks across Australia.

Ms Pegrum’s work has included helping affected families access Minderoo Foundation recovery pods, of which all are expected to have arrived and be fitted soon.

“There’s going to be about 40 in total and I think 18 have hit the ground,” she said.

Ms Pegrum said she hadn’t heard of a single resident determined to pack up and move on from the area.

Other residents have been satisfied with their level of support, including Aleg and Elanie Novak, who lost their home but said they were “very grateful for all donations made”.

Gidgegannup Progress Association chair Sally Block said the area needed futureproofing for the drier summers climate change was bringing.

“I feel like they need an inquiry while it’s fresh in people’s minds. All levels of government are going to have to look at disaster proofing. It’s going to happen again,” she said, admitting she’s already written to State and Federal members for immediate action.

Ms Block said no authority involved in the bushfire couldn’t say a catastrophic bushfire wasn’t possible in the area.

Climate Council acting head of research Simon Bradshaw told The West Australian that the State had recorded its second warmest year on record in 2020 — behind 2019 — leading to drier conditions entering the summer.

“These hot and dry conditions set parts of WA up for a difficult bushfire season, similar to the events that unfolded on Australia’s east coast in summer 20192020,” Dr Bradshaw said.

“With worsening hot and dry conditions threatening agriculture, and extreme heatwaves and worsening bushfire smoke posing a health risk to communities.”

DFES and WA Police arson investigators still haven’t established the cause of the fire — only its ignition point near Werribee Road in Wooroloo.

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