On Christmas Day 2015 Andrew Hack, a volunteer CFA member, drove from house to house turning on sprinklers and knocking on doors making sure everyone in Wye River had left their homes. In the shrinking distance roaring flames and aggressive black smoke turned the day into night and edged closer towards his small coastal community.
At lunchtime Gordon McComb left the dining table of his family home and paced the floor anxiously watching TV reports of the impending disaster hoping his Wye River holiday house of 42 years, a fibro shack with many precious memories, would survive. It didn’t.
Later that day Mark and Maree Salanowski received a text from the CFA confirming they’d lost their holiday property too.
Bushfire crosses The Great Ocean Road
The bushfire had climbed out of a deep, dense and almost inaccessible gully and burned all the way to the waterline crossing The Great Ocean Road.
Months later the scars are still highly visible. Scorched and blackened trees, some with fresh shoots, dominate the landscape, empty tracts of cleared land exist where houses once stood, and large unstable eucalypts in need of felling bear a large painted yellow “X”.
Mr Hack said only recently have people started coming to terms with what happened.
“To some extent the firefighting was the easy bit… it’s a challenging time right now. The holidays are over, the kids are at school and the full gravity is starting to dawn on people,” he said.
Carolyn Tatchell, a local CFA volunteer, agrees.
Community faces challenges
“At a community meeting one woman was finding it hard to open up about losing her holiday home because another woman was talking about losing her only home,” Mrs Tatchell said.
“We desperately need help,” she said.
Local and state governments have pitched in with financial aid and access to health care providers who will assess all property owners’ mental health and other health needs. Several community groups in Lorne have also contributed money including the Lions Club, which gave every family that lost their permanent home $2000.
While kindness is helping people deal with the fire’s devastation, there is still anger and division over what caused the fire.
A report by Emergency Management Victoria, handed down 36 days after the fire started and two days after it was brought under control, cleared fire authorities of causing the blaze through back burning. A coronial inquiry is now underway.