Australia Just over a year ago a fierce blaze tore through the Victorian coastal hamlets of Wye River and Separation Creek, destroying 116 houses and leaving a visible scar on the landscape.
Residents have begun rebuilding their homes, but Michael Buxton, associate professor of environment and planning at RMIT, thinks they should be stopped.
“If governments were really going to look at the issue of whether or not a bushfire-affected area would be allowed to have reconstructed dwellings, this would be a classic case where governments would say no. No rebuilding,” he said.
Mr Buxton, who gave evidence at the royal commission into the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, said while the Victorian Government accepted the commission’s recommendations that there be better mapping and stronger building controls, it stopped short of implementing one of the toughest recommendations.
“Governments keep just allowing people to rebuild when fire-affected areas are burnt out and the bushfire royal commission really tried to tackle that in a really fair and reasonable way, but governments don’t want to go there,” he said.
“I think governments have a responsibility to prevent people from doing extreme harm or potential harm to themselves.
“So if we continually allow people to go back into clearly very dangerous areas on very difficult slopes, with all sorts of building and other problems, then we’re not protecting people from their own often most dangerous instincts.”
Mr Buxton said the Victorian Government should have considered a land buyback scheme after the disaster so residents could have used their insurance money to buy elsewhere.
“There’s a big psychological hurdle here that I think governments have to figure out a way quickly to get around, because this is only going to get worse,” he said.
“We haven’t seen the last of the Wye Rivers in this country by any means, we’ve only seen the beginning.”
But Wye River locals who live in and love their coastal community say the thought of it being wiped off the map permanently is incomprehensible.
Former builder Peter Newland said his holiday house was the first to be rebuilt.
“I knew I’d built in a bushfire area, so these things happen occasionally, and my next thought was the rebuilding process and how I could get that up and running to be back in here by the next Christmas,” he said.
Thanks to the fact his drawings already complied with the latest strict bushfire standards, he was back in by Christmas and said there was never any doubt in his mind that he would rebuild.
Not letting people return would ‘destroy a lot of lives’
Tony and Lesley Maley lost their dream retirement home in the Christmas Day blaze, a memory which is still fresh in Ms Maley’s mind.
“I remember seeing my house from the surf club. I walked out and I looked up at the house and I remember I dropped to my knees and I just sobbed. There was just nothing left, all our hard work was gone,” she said.
After the fire, the Maleys’ home was re-classified to a greater Bushfire Alert Level (BAL) which they estimate has added around $100,000 to the cost of their rebuild.
Despite that, Ms Maley said the couple were hoping to start rebuilding next month.
“What isn’t there to love? It’s amazing, it’s a beautiful town, it’s koalas, the wildlife, the view, everything. It’s a very different lifestyle here, I’m very, very blessed to be in this environment,” she said.
She said the thought of people not being allowed to rebuild was devastating.
The couple hopes to move into their new home by around August and already have plans for their first night.
“[We’ll] have dinner on the deck. I think we’ll have Christmas on the deck, even if it’s not Christmas, just to do it right and do it in our place,” Ms Maley said.