PRIME MINISTER Malcolm Turnbull has committed funding to keep water-carrying aircraft in the region for an “extended period” to fight ongoing bushfires.
The PM flew into Wye River and Separation Creek with Corangamite MP Sarah Henderson yesterday, pledging funding, offering support and listening to emotional stories from firefighters and residents.
Mr Turnbull said the Otways’ Christmas Day fire was “obviously a terrible tragedy but also a triumph for the community the fact no lives have been lost”.
But he acknowledged the early start to the fire season, concerns with the Otways fire which is still burning, and the risk of further fires.
Temperatures are set to reach 38 degrees Celsius tomorrow when authorities are advising people the 1200-plus hectare fire will “pose a greater risk as the weather conditions change”.
Ms Henderson said the federal and state governments were working in partnership to fund the water-bombing aircraft in the state for an extra four to six weeks than planned.
“We do still have an out-of-control fire and the Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley is very concerned.
“I flew over the fire and it’s frightening that the place where it started near Jamieson Track is still burning.
“It’s very important that people have a fire plan and take necessary precautions when they are travelling in the area but we still want to make sure people come down and support Lorne and Apollo Bay communities and the local economy.
“I understand they hope to open the Great Ocean Road within the next week but that’s up to VicRoads and emergency services but people can still get to Lorne via Deans Marsh or Torquay and Apollo Bay via Lavers Hill.
“As soon as the Great Ocean Road is open we must all support the local traders and accommodation providers in Wye River, Separation Creek, Kennett River and Grey River because they are suffering significant losses.”
Ms Henderson said financial assistance was available to residents affected by the fire and she hoped the State Government would activate a request for funding as soon as possible to support businesses which had suffered financial losses.
She said she had heard “very, very emotional stories” from CFA members, residents and business owners including those who lost homes and pets in the fire.
“But I’ve also been overwhelmed by the resilience of this community, the spirit of this community is incredible although they have plenty of challenges ahead.”
Ms Henderson encouraged anyone who wanted to support the community to donate to Lorne-based The Spirit Foundation which was set up to help paralysed footballer Casey
Tutungi and would now fund-raise for permanent residents of Wye River and Separation Creek.
People can donate to Bendigo Bank account Spirit Foundation No. 4: BSB 633000, account number 150164101.
Authorities will host community information and fire update meetings today at Lorne, Deans Marsh, Forrest and Apollo Bay with details online at emergency.vic.gov.au