Australia — Construction giant Grocon is set to ramp up its operations to clear hundreds of homes and properties destroyed in the Victorian bushfires as access restrictions and roadblocks are lifted.
Victoria Police on Monday announced that roads in key areas including Kinglake, which were closed in the immediate aftermath of the devastating February 7 firestorm, would finally be reopened.
Amid police arson investigations, many towns and hamlets obliterated in the deadly bushfires were declared crime scenes and immediately closed off to the public.
It also followed a coroner’s ruling last month that prevented residents from starting cleanup work of their destroyed homes while authorities scoured for any outstanding human remains.
Grocon spokeswoman Jane Wilson said the firm would on Tuesday start clearing rubble from the destroyed Kinglake Central Primary School, followed by Strathewen Primary School later in the week.
“We will also be calling residents who have registered for the cleanup to make appointments to clear their property,” Ms Wilson said.
“We have to first look at the scope of the work to be undertaken, have property owners sign consent forms allowing us onto their site and also get approval from the Bushfires Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.”
More than 80,000 tonnes of debris is expected to be cleared from fire-hit areas across the state in an operation that could take up to six months.
The cleanup is being jointly funded by the state and federal governments and will involve clearing of more than 2,000 properties, including about 2,029 homes, 59 commercial buildings, 11 community buildings and 2,385 agricultural sheds, dairies and machinery.
Ms Wilson said that while Grocon had been awarded the contract to do the cleanup, there was nothing to stop residents from demolishing the ruins of their homes and clearing their sites themselves to start the rebuilding process.
“The government recommended those property owners sign up to the cleanup scheme, but they can apply for reimbursements under the scheme if they do the work themselves,” Ms Wilson said.
“The main concerns with that, however, are the fact that hazardous materials, such as asbestos, might be on some sites and an EPA licence might also be needed for clearing and landfill requirements.”
While residents of Kinglake and surrounding hamlets have been allowed back to their properties under controlled conditions, they will have free access from 2pm (AEDT) on Tuesday when the coronial restrictions and roadblocks are officially lifted.