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Fears new building code will delay reconstruc -

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Fears new building code will delay reconstruction of fire razed communities

The World Today - Thursday, 12 February , 2009 12:10:00

Reporter: Emily Bourke

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Police in Victoria investigating reports of deliberately lit bushfires have made
two arrests.

The fire threat in the state has eased with more favourable weather and work by fire-fighters to
stop bushfires spreading.

But now the State Government, insurers and residents are contemplating the enormous task of
rebuilding entire communities from the ground up.

There are concerns that any moves to toughen up building rules in fire-risk areas will add
significant time and cost to the reconstruction effort.

Emily Bourke reports.

EMILY BOURKE: The clean-up is well underway according to the Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce
Esplin.

BRUCE ESPLIN: At this point in time we have 400,000 plus hectares of land burnt; 1069 homes lost;
181 lives unfortunately lost; over 7,000 people displaced; and many, many thousands of enquiries to
the Red Cross in relation to family and friends.

The power companies are doing everything they can where it is safe to go into those communities and
re-rig lines, provide backup generation where it is appropriate. But I would just stress that some
of those communities, some of those areas are not yet safe. The fires are still burning actively
and aggressively.

Also there is still the process where the police, the fire services and the Australian Defence
Forces are doing the disaster victim identification process and the work of identifying properties
where there may be bodies continues.

EMILY BOURKE: Despite the massive scale of the task, there are precedents for such operations.

Tony Powell is a retired town planner and civil engineer and he was the chairman of the Darwin
Reconstruction Commission after Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

TONY POWELL: The key issue is sewerage, controlling sewage because that is a health hazard so that
is the first item of repair. The second is the restoration of water. Then the third is the sort of
secondary clearing of things like unstable vegetation, trees and that sort of thing and roadside
clean-ups; and also to clear spaces for the incoming equipment and people and cars and trucks and
everything that are going to descend on that place very quickly.

EMILY BOURKE: There's been an overwhelming response from construction companies, builders and
tradesman offering their skills and services.

Brian Welch is from the Master Builders Association of Victoria.

BRIAN WELCH: We have a list of over 100 companies that are volunteering their services to help in
any way. I am passing that information across now to the Insurance Council so they in turn can pass
it to the insurers and hopefully building work can commence as quickly as possible.

We could certainly provide, under their direction, temporary accommodation for people, preferably
close to where these people lived. And then we will need to negotiate, the insurance companies will
need to negotiate with their clients to see what building they want replaced, the size of it, the
scale of it, go through the process of getting the plans finalised and permits received and then
you can start building.

EMILY BOURKE: But with the State Government keen to toughen up building codes for high fire-risk
areas, there's concern about delays and a blowout in costs.

Brian Welch from the Master Builders Association wants clarity.

BRIAN WELCH: I wouldn't image regulations would be through the system in less than six months and
that process of course is going to delay those people who are wishing to rebuild. And it's
certainly going to be a burden on insurance companies because if they are obliged to provide
temporary housing then their costs will escalate dramatically.

So I think in the interests of those that are affected by the fire and those who are willing to get
the job done, we need clarity, we need it soon.

I also have a concern for those people unaffected by the fire who may face, who knows, $20,000
increases in costs when they were ready to build. They may now not have the money to build.

EMILY BOURKE: The death toll stands at 181 and that's still expected to rise.

Police believe the fire Churchill was deliberately lit and perhaps arson was also to blame for the
Marysville blaze.

Two people have been arrested in relation to suspicious behaviour relating to the fires between
Seymour and Yea north of Melbourne. No charges have been laid.

Earlier today detectives from the special taskforce investigating arson attacks questioned a
separate man but have discounted his involvement.

This afternoon, Melbourne's Catholic Archbishop will offer a mass at St Patrick's Cathedral for the
bushfire victims and in Canberra the Prime Minister's office has announced there will be a national
service to honour the victims of the fires. The details are still to be released.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Emily Bourke reporting.