Hurt lingers a year on from Vic bushfires

Andi Yu
·2-min read

Mallacoota local Elizabeth O'Donoghue is still processing the "hell" she went through last summer.

Even though her bush property survived the town's devastating bushfire, the emergency took a heavy toll.

She was evacuated to a local hall with limited drinking water, just two toilets for hundreds of people and she was robbed.

The devastation to wildlife hit home when she saw dead birds and other animals strewn across the beach.

"I've been totally traumatised by the whole event," she said.

"I'm still putting things together 11 months later."

Saturday marks a grim anniversary for Victoria - one year since the start of a brutal, months-long bushfire season that ravaged large tracts of the state.

On 21 November last year, dry lightning strikes started three blazes in East Gippsland, which grew to a bushfire disaster lasting 98 days.

The fires destroyed hundreds of homes, burnt more than 1.5 million hectares and claimed the lives of five people.

Native wildlife species were killed in mass numbers by flames and smoke inhalation.

Regional towns in East Gippsland and the northeast suffered economically as tourists avoided the areas, and within weeks of the devastation, coronavirus lockdowns compounded their hardship.

An emergency warning was issued for Mallacoota on December 30 with thousands of people fleeing to the beach at the isolated coastal town. Days later a navy ship arrived to evacuate trapped tourists.

Images of people huddled in Mallacoota under a sky painted red became a symbol of Australia's devastating summer bushfires, which also ravaged New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland.

Ahead of this fire season, Ms O'Donoghue has started clearing her bush property and will do more fire hazard reduction work in coming weeks.

She said some Mallacoota residents believed there was nothing left to burn this season.

Others like her are taking no chances.

"There is still some to burn," Ms O'Donoghue said.

Fire authorities are marking the anniversary by remembering the hardships and heroism through last summer, as well as urging people to seek help if they need it.

"As we head into another fire season, the next couple of months will no doubt bring back some painful memories for many Victorians," CFA acting chief officer Garry Cook said.

"The Victorian community has been through so much in the past year and I will always be proud of the way our CFA members and their communities have banded together to make it through."

Forest Fire Management Victoria chief officer Chris Hardman said it was a time to reflect on the tragic loss of life and be thankful for "some of the best firefighters in the world".

He urged Victorians to take care of their physical and mental wellbeing this summer.

"If the approach of a new fire season is causing considerable distress it is important to reach out for professional help," Mr Hardman said.