Bushfire evacuees return to homes and businesses

Rachael Ward, Callum Godde and Adrian Black |

The fire threat eased on Wednesday after favourable weather conditions arrived across the state.
The fire threat eased on Wednesday after favourable weather conditions arrived across the state.

Residents displaced by bushfires in western Victoria have started to return but many have nothing left to come home to.

More than two dozen homes along with outbuildings and vehicles have been destroyed after bushfires raged in and around the Grampians National Park this week.

Premier Jacinta Allan said on Thursday roughly 24 homes, three businesses and 23 outbuildings had been destroyed at Pomonal, but that number could rise.

One home was also lost at Dadswells Bridge.

“That’s really tough for those families,” Ms Allan told reporters at the Dadswells Bridge branch of the Country Fire Authority.

“And it also reverberates across the broader community.”

Local MP Emma Kealy said on Thursday evening the number of houses lost at Pomonal to the park’s east had risen after further assessments.

“The impact teams have been working through Pomonal today and the number of houses confirmed destroyed has risen to 34,” the member for Lowan told AAP on her way back from a tour of the fire ground.

Ms Kealy said entire streets had been “decimated” and the fire had a devastating impact on the township.

“Even the (residents) whose houses are still standing feel a sense of guilt that they’ve still got their home but their next door neighbour has lost theirs,” she said.

“That will be part of the process of grieving such a horrific disaster.”

Fire damage at Pomonal in Victoria.
Burnt-out vehicles and sheds at Pomonal where more than two dozen homes have been lost. (Justin McManus/AAP PHOTOS)

Grampians Tourism chief executive Marc Sleeman, who was forced to flee his Pomonal property on Tuesday afternoon, estimated the losses equated to about 40 per cent of all homes in his small town.

“When you start counting how many homes are in that small Pomonal pocket, not considering the outer regions, it’s a pretty big impact,” Mr Sleeman said.

The community member and father of three only learned on Wednesday that his home was still standing thanks to Country Fire Authority volunteer firefighters.

“It’s bittersweet when I know lots of friends and family have lost homes and lost businesses,” Mr Sleeman said.

A firefighter douses smouldering timber.
A Country Fire Authority member douses still smouldering timber in Pomonal, Victoria. (Justin McManus/AAP PHOTOS)

“I know we’ve lost a few sheds and boats and things like that, but small things in comparison to what other people have lost.”

Mr Sleeman urged tourists not to cancel their travel plans to other parts of the region, which remain open.

“For a lot of the businesses in Pomonal, they’re going to need the support more than ever now,” he said.

“It’s a very a community-minded town and I know that when we do get back in there it’s going to be all hands on deck getting people back on their feet.”

Fire damage in Pomonal.
A fire-damaged property in Pomonal, Victoria, where more than two dozen homes have been lost. (Justin McManus/AAP PHOTOS)

Emergency relief payments of $640 per adult and $320 per child with a maximum of $2240 for a family are  available for affected residents.   

“The personal hardship grants have been made available immediately,” Victoria’s Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes told reporters in Dadswells Bridge.

“These are designed to cover out of pocket expenses for your most urgent needs.”

People will be able to apply for the payments over the phone or in person at emergency relief centres in Ararat and Stawell.

Almost all fires sparked in Victoria on Tuesday are believed to have been started by lightning strikes as severe storms lashed the state.