Australia — The State Government has declared the bushfire-affected Margaret River region a natural disaster zone.
The bushfire, which has been brought under control, destroyed more than 40 properties.
It means primary producers and small businesses will be eligible for state grants of up to $15,000 and people who lost their primary place of residence can claim grants of up to $3,000.
The declaration also sparks the release of federal funds with the Special Minister of State, Gary Gray, saying affected residents can apply for various assistance packages.
“Personal hardship and distress, emergency accommodation and temporary living expenses,” he said.
“In addition to that, we’ve announced funding for essential repairs to make houses habitable and we’ve also announced additional funding for the replacement of whitegoods, floor coverings and the like.”
Mr Gray says the money is available immediately.
“The process will start right away and, so from the briefings that will take place in Margaret River from tomorrow morning, people will be aware and on hand to provide support for the community,” he said.
Families are also able to get immediate access to assistance through the Department for Child Protection and the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River.
The Insurance Council of Australia says an early estimate of the cost of the damage caused by the bushfire is in the tens of millions of dollars.
The ICA expects insurance assessors will begin inspecting affected properties today.
Spokesman Campbell Fuller says it has sent a senior manager to the area to help facilitate claims.
“He’s working very closely with both state and local government authorities as part of the recovery process and he’s helping insurance claimants and policy holders process their claims,” he said.
Mr Fuller says people who have lost their home or had property damage should contact their insurance providers.
“Anyone affected should contact their insurer before they authorise any repairs,” he said.
“Above all, make sure you are safe so if you are entering a property make sure it’s safe to do so.”
Fire crews are continuing to patrol containment lines around the fire and burn pockets of fuel within the fire zone.
Cooler weather over the weekend helped crews get on top of the blaze but not before it had destroyed 32 houses, five sheds and nine chalets in Prevelly, Gnarabup and Redgate, including the historic Wallcliffe House.
DEC says the fire is now under control.
All evacuation areas have now been lifted but several roads remain closed and motorists are asked to avoid the area where possible.
The department says access to Prevelly and Gnarabup has been restricted to residents only, to protect their privacy.
Western Power says electricity has been restored to Kilcarnup, Burnside, Prevelly and through to the Margaret River beach resort at Gnarabup, and at Redgate.
About 500 homes and businesses were cut off when the fire swept through.
The company’s Miriam Borthwick says residents who do not have electricity may have to call in an electrical contractor.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean that every house is back on, so if there’s been any damage to the property that might have affected all of the equipment at the property or the line that connects the house to the network,” she said.
“That’s where residents will need to engage an electrical contractor to have a look at the work there.”
The Department of Education says students affected by the fires will be offered counselling in class today.
About 3,000 students across all year groups will returned to school today after emergency services informed the department it was safe to re-open the schools.
The department’s regional executive director, Neil Milligan, says a range of services will be made available to students, staff and parents.
“It’s also a great opportunity for the students and the staff to share their feelings and share their stories,” he said.
“It’s a very big part of the way kids put into perspective the experiences they’ve had, just the sharing of the experiences with their friends and colleagues is going to be an important part of the healing process.
“And, I think that’s going to have a calming effect.”
Schools in the Wheatbelt also resumed today after being closed due to a catastrophic fire warning late last week.