CFA Chief Officer Steve Warrington and the members of the CFA Board have toured communities in East Gippsland to see first hand the devastation created by the recent fires and acknowledge the efforts of volunteers and staff.
The group visited Sarsfield, Bruthen and Buchan where numerous homes and other infrastructure has been destroyed in recent weeks.
At Sarsfield, CFA leaders heard from local Brigade Captain Ian Brownrigg and Bruthen Brigade Captain James Nicholas about the impacts of the fires of 30 and 31 December.
Twenty per cent (or one in five) of the homes in Sarsfield were destroyed but Mr Brownrigg said the community was strongly focused on helping affected residents rebuild their lives.
With 80 members, including 50 active members on the ground this fire season, the focus for the rural Sarsfield brigade has been on community protection, while the Bruthen brigade outlined its own challenges with communications and water supply as they protected lives and property.
On Sunday, dozens of people gathered at the Sarsfield Recreation Reserve to watch the live broadcast of the Fire Fight Australia concert, with Chief Officer Warrington speaking with local residents about how they are moving forward with a weekly “whole of community” get together for a meal and to discuss their recovery.
At Buchan, Brigade Captain Peter Smith outlined the activation of township protection plans to defend assets including telecommunications networks, the school, major buildings and the local tourism attraction the Buchan Caves, complemented by weeks of preparatory work by graders around the perimeter of the town.
Mr Smith said despite the experience of the community in dealing with fires in recent years, the ferocity of the recent blaze caught many by surprise.
Police and emergency services workers undertook doorknocks of homes to ensure people were aware of the risks from the approaching fire, which had started weeks earlier.
Board Chair Greg Smith AM praised the efforts of the CFA and other emergency services agencies including Victoria Police and DELWP in saving many homes and the bulk of the township during what was an extremely difficult firefight.
“I want to pay tribute to all those volunteers who have put their own lives on the line in recent weeks to help and protect others,” Mr Smith said.
“We’ve heard remarkable examples of how our CFA members and their colleagues spent days preparing their townships for this event and how they remain side-by-side with their communities now as they rebuild.”
“These communities should be applauded for their resilience in the face of significant loss and damage.”