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World Conjola Park, Balmoral residents reflect on summer bushfires six months on

11:27  01 july  2020
11:27  01 july  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Bushfire conditions may have eased, but Conjola Park residents remain on high alert and do not Conjola Park locals held a party to mark the end of an era after bushfires devastated the town. "It's been a big fire fight effort, not just locally here for over a month but we had crews up in the north of

As bushfires continue to burn out of control across Australia -- engulfing whole towns and leaving little behind but for the charred remains of people's homes -- remarkable stories of survival have surfaced from the state of New South Wales (NSW).

a person standing next to a body of water: Greg Webb inspects the rubble of his Conjola Park home. (ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez) © Provided by ABC News Greg Webb inspects the rubble of his Conjola Park home. (ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Six months ago, a bushfire tore through Conjola Park and surrounding bush on the New South Wales South Coast, burning 89 homes and killing three people.

Today, people are still only just beginning to rebuild their lives.

Community groups are starting to build new facilities in the town and many residents are in the process of rebuilding their homes.

Greg Webb said while many people who lost their homes did not want to rebuild, he felt Conjola was still his home.

"I've taken it on the chin, we're here to stay," he said.

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Residents of communities on the New South Wales South Coast are trying to assess the damage caused by the bushfire crisis. The tiny town of Conjola Park

Family films return to bushfire -affected Lake Conjola . He had gone to work in Canberra, but when the bushfires swept through the NSW South Coast on New Year's Eve it became too dangerous to travel home. Tracking the coronavirus spread: Australia records biggest daily rise in two months .

"We're building to the highest bushfire rating, but it's quite a task and I can understand why a lot of people can't face it."

Resilience and rebuilding now on the agenda

Kim Harper, president of the Conjola Community Recovery Association, said the past six months had been tough on the community.

The group is helping to build new park facilities and an emergency evacuation point.

It hopes to have the evacuation site ready by Christmas, complete with a storage area for emergency items and a place where people can leave by boat if necessary.

"We've got people who are very distressed and people who can't come back to Conjola," Ms Harper said.

"I'm proud of the way the community has come together."

Shoalhaven recovery coordinator Vince Di Pietro delivered a six-month update at a council meeting on Tuesday night and said it was time to focus on the future, rather than the clean-up.

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A bushfire is continuing to burn in the area and the dry and windy conditions expected on Thursday will exacerbate the risk, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services says. As a result, the Eyre Highway will be closed for a minimum of five days. DFES advises people to avoid the area

He indicated the recovery committee would soon wind up, with bushfire clean-up and recovery to return to ordinary council business.

"You should all be very comfortable and satisfied with what has been achieved in six months," Mr Di Pietro said.

"Don't rest, don't stop, and, if possible try, and focus on what the future looks like."

Different stages of recovery

Further north, the town of Balmoral is further along in its recovery after the town was hit on December 21.

Artist Steve Harrison survived by hiding in a makeshift kiln made of fireproof ceramic fibres which he constructed the day before fire struck the town.

The blaze destroyed his pottery shed and most of his ceramic artwork.

Now, Dr Harrison has had his development application (DA) for a new shed approved, and to prepare for future fire events he is making it fire resistant.

"All around us is pretty much cleaned up now," he said.

"My DA has been approved and I'm waiting for the construction certificate, so we should start to rebuild soon.

"We live between two national parks in the bush, we know there will be another dry spell in the future."

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