Renewal - bushfire clean-up making headway
As clean-up takes place across several bushfire-affected communities in NSW, the EPA is providing support and expert advice. EPA Connect caught up with a member of the Laing O'Rourke team and a property owner for this special report.
The NSW Government and the Commonwealth are jointly covering the clean-up cost of insured and uninsured residential and eligible commercial properties destroyed in the NSW bushfires since 1 July 2019. Laing O’Rourke has been appointed to lead the clean-up.
Working in the field
Site preparation for clean-up at Cobargo
Helen Ferry is a consultant working with the Laing O’Rourke community engagement team as they carry out the invaluable task of helping property owners prepare for the post bushfire clean-up.
She is finding her work in the field to be a privilege.
“It is very rewarding to work closely with bushfire survivors on the NSW south coast as a part of the clean up team,” Helen said.
“We’re dedicated to ensuring the sites are safe for clean-up.
“We work out with the owners what can be done and to, wherever possible, retrieve precious items that may have survived the fires and develop a plan for their clean up.
“I am in awe of the courage people have in the face of such huge loss,” Helen said.
The Einfalts' story
The Einfalt’s home before the fire.
The Einfalt family’s beach house at North Rosedale on the South Coast was destroyed in the Black Summer bushfires. The home, like many of those around it, held precious memories of family occasions and happy times. Fiona (Murray) Einfalt is turning the initial despair into a photo book for her family and for the next generation – to document the home’s history and renewal as they prepare to rebuild.
“My mother in law built it nearly 60 years ago and it was a significant part of our family history,” Fiona told EPA Connect.
“My husband proposed to me there six years ago and our children became one big family on the many holidays we had there.
“We never thought we would have to deal with a house burning down let alone all the emotions that came with it. After the shock of it all, I dreaded having to go down there and deal with the clean-up and the looming process.”
Marcus and Fiona Einfalt ready for site clean up at Rosedale in May
For safety reasons, most property owners weren’t onsite for the initial assessment by the EPA and Public Works team for any hazardous material such as asbestos in the debris.
Following the assessment, it was then time to go back for the clean-up.
“On our first visit we met Helen and Jason from Laing O’Rourke and I was overwhelmed by their kindness and the time they took to walk us through the process,” Fiona said.
Since then, the Einfalts have been back to the property several times.
“We all know it was more than just a clean-up and they have helped us work through a crucial part of the grieving process and I just can't thank them enough!” Fiona said.
The Einfalt family feel such a strong connection to Rosedale and are now busy designing their new home.
“The next time we get to North Rosedale most of the work will be done and I imagine it will be strangely quiet. A part of me will be sad not to see the smiling faces of our helpers,” Fiona said.
“While the sadness of losing the old house will never be forgotten, we are excited to now move onto the next stage and build a new house. Now our kids are old enough to build this one and create some beautiful memories.”
Watch this short time-lapse video of bushland renewal after the fires in Northern NSW.
EPA Bushfire Recovery Team working in the field – and online
The EPA’s Bushfire Recovery team is working with Laing O’Rourke, Public Works Advisory, SafeWork NSW and councils to ensure community safety during the clean-up phase.
During COVID-19 our team has still been out and about on the ground overseeing clean-up and providing support. They are checking on dust, noise and stormwater management, safe asbestos handling and removal and transport of materials from affected properties, and visiting landfills to check on safe disposal of asbestos and materials damaged by bushfire.
Robyn (far right) with her colleagues –(clockwise) Rhian Tough, Janet Sparrow, Katelyn Edge and Cate Woods
Through COVID-19 restrictions, the geographically dispersed team meet often via video-link through Microsoft Teams.
Senior Operations Officer with the Incident Response team Robyn Smith said: “My experience in these bushfires began at the RFS State Operations Centre watching them progress on the fire spread maps and then through impact assessment data. Since then, our work has progressed to giving advice to the affected communities at recovery centres and follow-up operations. Driving through the burnt landscapes and talking to people about their experiences and seeing how complex a site clean-up can be, reinforces for me how important it is to see these recovery programs through to the end. COVID-19 has been a real challenge but it hasn’t stopped recovery.”