PARTS of Wye River began re-opening to residents yesterday, nine days after the Christmas Day bushfire destroyed 116 homes on the Otway coast.
Fire and environment officers have been assessing Wye River and Separation Creek for safety to allow residents of remaining houses to return to their homes.
Officials announced at a public meeting yesterday morning that permanent residents of the southern part of Wye River, and the town’s two caravan parks, could return yesterday afternoon.
Holidaymakers from caravan parks and rental properties in the re-opened area were able to return to retrieve possessions, but were unable to stay.
Separation Creek and the north part of Wye River remain closed for further risk assessments.
Officials said destroyed houses contained the cancer-causing mineral asbestos, and an Environment Protection Authority hygienist had been assessing the towns to ensure they were safe for residents.
Other safety concerns come from landslips, unstable ground, downed powerlines down from solar power units, and damaged septic tanks.
Officials said they hoped to gradually re-open other areas to residents in coming days, but the Great Ocean Road was closed to tourists between Lorne and Wongarra.
Lightning strikes on December 19 started the Wye River-Jamieson Track fire, and it has since burned almost 2500 hectares of mostly inaccessible terrain.
The fire was at its worst on Christmas Day when it spread into Wye River and Separation Creek, closing the Great Ocean Road and leading to a temporary evacuation of Lorne.
Fire authorities had issued an evacuation order for Kennett River, Grey River, Sugarloaf and Wongarra on New Year’s Eve, as the temperature soared.
But the fire failed to spread into these areas and residents could return that night.
Incident controller Alistair Drayton, at a media briefing on Friday, said authorities had been concerned about forecast winds on New Year’s Eve.
“Fortunately the weather didn’t come to forecast,” he said. “That prediction would have made the fire run right down to the south.”
Mr Drayton said cooler weather over the weekend allowed firefighters to get closer to the fire and strengthen containment lines.
“We’ve got a very large fire now in very difficult and challenging terrain.”