Focus on recovery but remain alert

Fires in the Noosa region had been largely contained by the middle of this week but residents and fire crews remain on alert with unstable weather conditions set to prevail for some days.

Bushfire recovery efforts continue in full swing with the establishment of a Community Recovery Hub by Noosa Shire Council and aid agencies at Noosaville Library on Tuesday of this week to help residents impacted by the bushfires.

The council’s Community Services Director Kerri Contini said recent days have been “quite traumatic for a number of residents and it’s important we provide as much assistance as we can in the aftermath of the emergency”.

“The Recovery Hub is a one-stop shop for people to get answers to questions they might have and get linked in to appropriate services,” Kerri said.

“The Hub will provide support, information and services to residents impacted by the bushfire event.

“The emotional impact of this type of event is often felt when people return to their homes and start to process their experience of the last few days.

“The Recovery Hub has staff on-site to provide emotional support so we encourage people to drop in and connect.

“Disaster funding payments are available for eligible people living in the evacuation zones that experienced a higher degree of impact, such as being evacuated from their homes for at least 48 hours, experiencing a loss of power or needing to undertake repairs of clean-ups as a result of the fire.

“These areas include Cooroibah, Noosa Banks, Ringtail Creek and Noosa North Shore, as well as some areas of Tewantin.

“A range of funding is available including Hardship Assistance Grants of $180 per person for people who are unable to meet their immediate needs or Structural Assistance grants of up to $14,685 towards the cost of repairs to uninsured, owner-occupied homes.

“Staff at the Hub can also help those eligible to fill out the funding applications.

“If there are people outside these areas that have also suffered genuine hardship as a result of the fire event they are encouraged to contact the Recovery Centre and staff will link them into local support services.

“An outreach mobile service will also be operating, targeting the residents in the Cooroibah and Noosa North Shore areas.

“A range of funding is available including Hardship Assistance Grants of $180 per person (up to $900 for a family of five or more) for people who are unable to meet their immediate essential needs for temporary accommodation, food, essential clothing and medication.”

As of Wednesday the bushfire situation in the Cooroibah/Ringtail Creek/Noosa North Shore zones was being contained by fire crews but residents across the Noosa area are advised to remain alert to further developments, with hot and dry and unstable weather conditions expected to persist for days to come.

• For the latest updates keep an eye on Noosa Today on Facebook and at www.noosatoday.com.au

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Mayor responds …

Noosa Mayor Tony Wellington this week responded to criticism from some in the community that the council had not undertaken enough controlled burning operations in recent months.

Cr Wellington last week confirmed that a permitted burn on private property in the St Johns Road area “which jumped to National Park and then back to private land” was the source of the original Teewah and Cooroibah fire the previous week, but said the details were “still under investigation”.

On his personal Facebook page on Tuesday of this week Cr Wellington said it was “unfortunate that, following the recent natural fire disaster, some people are looking for someone to blame”.

“Noosa Council is being criticised for not doing enough controlled, preparatory burns,” Cr Wellington said.

“Let’s look at the facts.

“1. Noosa Council has a regime for controlled or “cool” burns (as they are known) on land under our control. What’s more we work closely with Queensland Fire & Emergency Services and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, so that everyone is aware when and where burns are happening.

“2. The fire over the last week began on private land, moved to state controlled national park land, and then went back to private land. This is land that is outside of Council control for preparatory burning. Only minor parcels of Council controlled land were burnt. None of the recent fires have begun on Noosa Council controlled land.

“3. Preparatory burns do not have a significant impact on fires that occur during severe and extreme fire conditions. Controlled burns remove fuel from the ground and lower storey. They don’t burn the tree tops – otherwise they would be far too dangerous. During severe fire conditions, as in Cooroibah on the weekend, the fire rips through the entire bush, including the tree tops. No amount of preparatory burning could prevent this.

“4. Controlled burns are not benign. They can be dangerous. Controlled burns have become out of control and threatened houses, even here in Noosa. What’s more, national parks officers have died in NSW during controlled burn operations. These activities can only happen under appropriate conditions – generally around late winter.

“5. It is absurd to claim that preparatory burns could prevent any specific fire. Think about it. It is not possible to predict exactly where a fire will occur. The State and Council can’t burn every piece of vegetation in the shire, otherwise there would be no wildlife. To suggest that a particular fire could have been prevented with earlier controlled burns just defeats logic, as that would require the whole shire to have been burnt.

“I find it reprehensible that some people attempt to use a natural disaster to make cheap political hits on Council.

“But some people are just like that.”

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“Patterns”

Cr Wellington has also made it clear it’s his view climate change is a factor in the current bushfire crisis facing Queensland New South Wales, but says the “immediate focus” should be on supporting those directly affected in the Noosa community and others currently dealing with bushfire devastation in Queensland and NSW.

In recent days the climate debate has become front and centre of national media commentary, with all sides of politics blaming each other for alleged failures to act.

Cr Wellington told the media last weekend it was his view that there is “some evidence the planet and the environment are changing”.

“We’ve had 13 or 14 of the hottest years so far this century over the last 19 years,” Cr Wellington said.

“There are definitely patterns in terms of temperatures and rainfall and you can see those have been developing.

“In Australia today we are living in a tinder box.”

Another regional mayor with a strong belief in climate change is Carol Sparks, the mayor of Glen Innes Severn Council in northern New South Wales.

Cr Sparks almost lost her own home in last weekend’s fires and personally knew two local people who lost their lives in the fires, as the tightly-knit Glen Innes community rally around each other, united in grief and staying strong in the face of continued fire activity.

Cr Sparks said she was more fortunate than some, with her home in bushland east of Glen Innes being “double brick” and as a result the main structure still standing, but most of her family’s personal possessions were lost.

In a heartfelt and emotional opinion piece given to national media Cr Sparks said her council had “heeded the advice of fire controllers and decades of scientific reports” by declaring a “climate emergency” in October, ahead of the current fires.

“Throughout this time, every effort has been made to prepare and defend both private and public properties in my community of Wytaliba, NSW, which last week succumbed to merciless physics that pay no heed to opinion, nor folklore, nor politics,” Cr Sparks wrote.

“Members of my family are in hospital.

“Two community members, my neighbours for decades, are lost to us.

“We have lost dozens of homes beloved by hundreds of people.

“An entire community has been all but wiped off the map.

“While all this is a personal tragedy for my family and myself, it is but one story within an unfolding statewide and global disaster, about which our community deserves nothing less than the honest and unvarnished truth.

“There are already those who, following such statements, will aim to shoot the messenger.

“To those people I say this: take your best shot, for I have already been through hell and there is nothing you can say or do that can touch me now.”

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