Overwhelming Response

Overwhelming Response

The grassroots community response to helping victims of the devastating bushfires has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Local donations along with those from across the state, offers of assistance and convoy after convoy of trucks carrying hay to starving livestock have been endless.

While the fire threat is far from over with today’s conditions causing concern about a spike in fire activity, the cleanup post-bushfires will also be nothing short of phenomenal. 

After nine days helping to feed, clothe and house people at the Lucknow Memorial Hall, the volunteers have packaged up the remaining goods for the shire to take to Sale RAAF base to be distributed when needed.

“We’ve done our duty, we’ve served the people we needed to serve,” organiser Wendy McPhan said.

“We were there for the immediate crisis response, we knew people would need things.”

Fellow organiser, Jodie Crane, said they had more than 100 volunteers across three sites - the hall, the Lucknow school hall and the Lucknow Football Club.

She estimated the group had helped more than 700 victims who walked through the door and that they had set up a system where the person was greeted at the door then assigned a volunteer to help them through choosing clothing and food.

“When you’ve been through trauma you can’t focus,” Mrs McPhan said.

“We’ve had shell-shocked people come through that door. People have collapsed in our arms, kids who have seen more than a child should see and couldn’t talk.

“Some of those people couldn’t even choose clothes for themselves.

“We thought that if we packed the food and toiletries into hampers then people could just pick them up and go.”

Areas serviced from the Lucknow Hall included Mallacoota airdrops; Buchan; Gelantipy; Wairewa; Orbost; Bruthen; Sarsfield; Cann River; Omeo; Tambo Crossing and Swifts Creek.

People at Swifts Creek have taken extra goods in order to service other smaller communities.

But it’s the human response that Mrs McPhan is most impressed with.

“You can’t put into words the human kindness we’ve seen – nor the devastation we’ve seen,” she said.

“The people who took the least were the people who needed the most. We absolutely couldn’t have done it without the help of our ladies who came from day one. We are so proud of every single person, it’s been a really emotional time.”

They said volunteers like Tim Bull, Darren Chester and Joe Rettino had been invaluable in helping to make things happen, including linking some people who had been left without a home to accommodation offered by locals.

Like any other well-intentioned volunteer, Tim Bull hasn’t looked for a pat on the back, rather he has also been amazed by the people he calls ‘unsung heroes’ who have helped with everything from delivering free water to those driving supplies into remote communities and looking after animals at the saleyards.

Tim, who estimates fire came within 600 metres of his house and 200 metres of his fences, said a lack of resources had been a challenge.

“We have 4000 less volunteers in the CFA since Daniel Andrews came to office in 2015 and at times we’ve struggled for resources,” he said.

Of the repeated calls being made the climate change is the reason for such fierce bushfires, he said the fire triangle was made up of ignition, oxygen and fuel.

“The only one humans can control is fuel,” Mr Bull said.

“While the climate is changing and we need to adapt, climate change didn’t put the record fuel loads in the forest.

“If we don’t do more controlled burns we’ll have more uncontrolled fires.”

IMAGE: Lucknow Memorial Hall volunteers Jodie Crane, Simon Walsh and Wendy McPhan, pictured on Wednesday, were closing down the bushfire relief operation that started on New Year’s Eve. K14-2056