Bunyip fire victims feel abandoned 11 months on

Bunyip Complex Fires Community Recovery Committee president Tony Fitzgerald (left) assists fire affected residents Katie Turnbull, Suellen Deane, and Karen Shift in their fight for financial support.

Bunyip Complex Fires Community Recovery Committee president Tony Fitzgerald (left) assists fire affected residents Katie Turnbull, Suellen Deane, and Karen Shift in their fight for financial support.

Along the road to Tonimbuk Recovery Centre, there is regrowth on the blackened trees and landscape. While the environment has begun its natural recovery process, fire affected residents still have a long road ahead.
Thirty homes were destroyed in the Bunyip Complex Fires in March last year and almost 300 households, farms and businesses were classed as fire affected.
Eleven months on, the 30 families who lost their homes have not rebuilt and face at least another 12 months of renting.
The biggest hiccup is meeting Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) ratings for planning permits.
Emotionally and financially, fire affected residents are struggling. And now, they say they have “dropped off the list” for funding and support eligibility.
The Gazette spoke to Karen Shift and her partner Billy Garner in the days after their Tonimbuk North house was destroyed in the fire.
Last week, Karen said she felt they had made little progress.
For many, the East Gippsland fires have reignited the emotions and struggles.
Karen said she was genuinely pleased to see the millions of dollars donated to fire relief organisations and the government handouts that have been promised.
“I am so happy for those people that they are being helped and I feel really selfish feeling the way I do but I feel insulted that we aren’t getting the same support, it’s very hurtful,” she said.
While insurance covered their rental costs for 12 months after the fire, Karen said those payments would run out next month and they don’t even have a building permit, let alone a house to live in.
She said the costs were mounting, including more than $30,000 in clean-up ($12,500 covered by state government grant), $3000 for a bushfire consultant to assess the BAL rating and arborists costs.


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