People and animals seek shelter in Wangaratta from bushfires

By Jamie Salter

Wangaratta has played a key part in coping with the bushfires burning across north-eastern Victoria.

Disastrous bushfires have burnt 1.2 million hectares across Victoria, killing two men and injuring or killing huge numbers of farm animals and wildlife.

The Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre has been turned into a relief centre and the Wangaratta saleyards and showgrounds are housing a range of animals.

State Member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy said the support from the community had been fantastic as he visited the relief centre.

“The centre has been a stop-off point when people have been dislocated from their homes,” Mr McCurdy said.

“There may be 60 to 70 in the relief centre one day and the next day they’ve worked out what they're going to do and move on; there's usually 20 to 30 people every night.”

Visitors to the relief centres are mostly temporary as they determine their next move, whether that is to stay with a friend or plan a trip to Melbourne.

A bus takes people to the Army barracks in Bandiana, near Wodonga, for longer-term accommodation.

“A range of local chefs and volunteers are providing food to everybody, you could have a turnover of 100 people each day and a different group will come through tomorrow,” Mr McCurdy said.

“The local Lions and Rotary clubs are hosting a barbecue daily at the showgrounds where people in cars and caravans are camping.

“Victorian Health and Human Services offer what support they can and Red Cross are helping to register people, so we know where they’ve come from.”

The Red Cross also offered meal and fuel vouchers for those who left the centre to reach a friend or relative.

Mr McCurdy said the showgrounds was the perfect place to host the animals which included dogs, donkeys, horses and more.

“The saleyards can't fit any more horses and that overflow is being taken to the Wangaratta Turf Club and showgrounds,” Mr McCurdy said.

The Wangaratta Police Station requested 10 more police officers for the region and received 62; every night 20 are sent to Bright.

Mr McCurdy recently held a meeting in Myrtleford, which determined those who are vulnerable or frail should leave the region before hot weather approaches on Friday, January 10, as temperatures are expected to reach 38°C.