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Survivors weigh up their options -

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Survivors weigh up their options

The World Today - Tuesday, 10 February , 2009 12:14:00

Reporter: Rachael Brown

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Reporter Rachael Brown is close to the Victoria - New South Wales border.

At Ovens, south of Beechworth at least four people have been killed, more than a dozen homes have
been destroyed and around 30,000 hectares have been burnt out.

Well, Rachael Brown what is the situation there?

RACHAEL BROWN: Well slightly brighter news for Beechworth residents and surrounding areas today.
The fires have been downgraded to an alert, which means people still need to be vigilant but
because of the great weather conditions firefighters have had over the past couple of days - low
temperatures, mild to no winds - they have managed to strengthen containment lines around a lot of
areas on the fire especially the southern flank.

So it's looking good at the moment. Firefighters expect to have those containment lines in place by
today or tomorrow.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: A better outlook but what are the locals saying about should they should stay or
go?

RACHAEL BROWN: It depends on when you go. I've spoken to a hotel owner here in Beechworth and she
said she just wouldn't take the risk. That's what insurance is for. I spoke to a lady who owns the
Stanley pub and she lost her home and was talking to me about the enormous loss that she went
through when she returned there yesterday.

She's lost her daughters shoes, her first christening gown, things that are irreplaceable but still
she says she would do the same thing in a heartbeat again. Her neighbours down the road from her,
she lost, a young couple who'd sent their children away to their grandmother, they perished in the
fire, the man still holding the hose.

So stories like that are abominable and then you go to other areas have survived where the threat
is not as pronounced, just south of the fire where I was yesterday crews were conducting a burn out
and of course, these areas in a good spot in terms of they were below the fire and the fire was
heading north-east but the risk is still there.

They are surrounded by pine plantations so if there is spotting or it gets in there, they're in a
lot of trouble too.

I asked the CFA's fire chief from Harrietville about what the mood in the farming community of
Havilah was there, south of Beechworth.

GARY WESTON: This area probably about 100 people, a mostly farm community.

RACHAEL BROWN: And do know whether most have decided to stay?

GARY WESTON: All of the community here have decided to stay. They are a fairly resilient bunch up
here in Havilah. Yeah, they are pretty rock solid.

RACHAEL BROWN: One man laughed at me before as if there was any other option.

GARY WESTON: Yeah, well old Bill over there is an old dogone (phonetic) from way back and had a
stroke several years ago but he is a pretty tough old boy.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: CFA fire chief Gary Weston, speaking at the farming community of Havilah.

For the people who are leaving, where are they going?

RACHAEL BROWN: An evacuation centre has been set up at Chilton Memorial Hall. Families from places
like Stanley and Dederang who have lost their homes have gone there for the nights previous. There
is staff there from the Department of Human Services, Centrelink, there is financial services and
counselling there and they are starting to rebuild their lives.

Now I understand the Premier John Brumby and his government has received a lot of flak lately about
potential insufficient state warning systems. He's actually in the area today so I am not sure what
kind of community response he'll get here.

But I spoke to the Indigo Shire Council's CEO Brendan McGrath about whether residents think there
needs to be a better warning system in place.

BRENDAN MCGRATH: I think the sentiment is a bit mixed. I think people, a lot of people who live
here have been through this situation in the fires in 2003 so that is still pretty fresh in
people's minds so I think there is a combination of being worried about what might be coming but
also some sense of relief that we're not experiencing some of the stuff that other parts of the
state are, which is all pretty awful.

RACHAEL BROWN: Your community is faring much better than other parts of Victoria. Has there been
much talk, as there has been in other areas, of the warnings? A lot of people are angry out there
they weren't given enough.

BRENDAN MCGRATH: I think we have been pretty fortunate in that regard. Since certainly Saturday
night when the fire started the winds were pretty wild and things moved very quickly so probably
Stanley, Stanley and the outskirts of Beechworth were probably caught a bit by surprise. But really
since Sunday and particularly yesterday and today the winds have been very calm and generally in
the right direction for us so the fire for the last couple of days has been moving very slowly so
people have actually had quite a lot of warning and quite a lot of time to think about plans and
preparations and so forth here.

RACHAEL BROWN: In terms of resourcing, how are your faring here?

BRENDAN MCGRATH: Well look, I think pretty well. I think everyone is pretty understanding of the
fact that resources right across the state are really stretched to the limit. I'm not hearing any
specific reports of being under resourced although I am sure the CFA and others would say if they
had more people and more equipment they could certainly utilise it.

I think communications have been stretched pretty thin with, the fire here is spread over a very
wide area so we have got centres set up in two or three locations which makes communication between
those sites a bit of a challenge but I think, you know, generally it has been about as good as you
could expect given the conditions across Victoria and southern New South Wales.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Brendan McGrath, the chief executive officer of Indigo Shire, and our reporter
there was Rachael Brown.