Those who have lost everything in recent bushfires say financial assistance is welcomed, but when it comes it’s too little and too late.

January 17, 2020 05:13:42
A bushfire wiped out Al Bacon’s town and left him with serious burns two months ago, but he says it may as well have happened yesterday.
Time hasn’t changed much in Wytaliba, the north-eastern NSW town where a bushfire in November killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes and buildings.
Mr Bacon, who was uninsured, lost everything except some baby photos and clothes, and said he was “disgusted” by the small amount of relief funds the family had received.
So far, he said he and his partner and their son had been paid one grant from the State Government relief fund of $1,280.
“It’s been as much of a slap in the face as the fire was,” the young father said.
Mr Bacon is among those who have lost everything in recent bushfires who say financial assistance is welcomed, but it’s too little and arriving too late.
Wytaliba Rural Fire Service firefighter Joe Borgia, is struggling to find the funds to rebuild his home.
He was one of three firefighters captured on video driving through the terrifying firestorm in Wytaliba, an event which left him unable to sleep for weeks.
Mr Borgia has received the $1,000 Federal Government disaster recovery payment but has been waiting almost a month for funds from the Red Cross and NSW Government.
“One thousand dollars isn’t much when you consider how much has been donated to the RFS,” he said.
In just days he and his daughter must vacate their temporary accommodation in Glen Innes and return to live in Wytaliba.
But he is at a loss to find the $15,000 he’ll need to set up a kit home on his property.
“I’m starting to feel it, I had a bit of money saved up but I’ve gone through that,” Mr Borgia said.
Mr Borgia said he was relieved when another Wytaliba resident gave him $500 as thanks for saving his house as that helped with his day-to-day expenses.
“The thing is I just have to keep chasing the [disaster relief grants], as I need it fast.”
‘You’re on your own’
Mr Bacon’s family initially only applied for financial assistance from St Vincent de Paul’s, from which they are waiting a response.
He said they were not aware of the Federal Government’s one-off disaster recovery payments of $1,000 per adult and $800 per child, announced weeks after the Wytaliba fire, but would apply for it now.
The Federal Government is also offering lost income allowances, and has committed $2 billion to a new bushfire recovery agency but that’s separate to individual disaster relief payments.
Elsewhere, the Red Cross is providing $5,000 emergency grants and the big four banks all have relief packages available to their customers.
Mr Bacon said communication could have been better about what entitlements were available and there needed to be more support for people after they received the funds.
“The other issue is if you get the money, it’s just ‘OK, you deal with everything now’,” he said.
“There’s no follow-up, you’re on your own we need experts to evaluate the land and give us guidance about exactly how to rebuild, so there’s no threat of erosion for example.”
Mr Bacon said wreckage still hadn’t been cleared and asbestos-contaminated material remained, despite the NSW Government’s commitment in November of $25 million for bushfire cleanup.
‘I was disgusted’
Not only did Mr Bacon suffer horrific burns, was also hit by a car as he tried to reach neighbour George Nole, who died in the fire.
After weeks in a Sydney hospital, he has largely recovered, but can’t yet return to work as a concreter as his skin is unable to handle sunlight.
Shortly after those bushfires ravaged communities in the north of the state, Premier Gladys Berejiklian vowed to “provide assistance as quickly as possible”.
Mr Bacon and his partner Storm Sparks claim they had to wait for almost a month to get any money.
But it was the amount that shocked him the most.
“We got $1,280 I was disgusted to tell you the truth,” Mr Bacon said.
“What does that get you in the real world?”
Mr Bacon said most of the money was spent on a $760 bill for the ambulance after he was hit by the car, and the family had to pay two weeks’ rent up front at their temporary accommodation in Glen Innes.
A spokesperson for the NSW Office of Emergency Management (OEM) said the disaster relief grants were designed to provide a basic level of assistance.
To determine the amount paid to bushfire victims, the Government takes into account the applicant’s weekly wage or Centrelink Benefit, their minimum weekly rent or mortgage payment and if they have dependants.
“OEM are receiving many requests for Disaster Relief Grants from across the state and it is a priority to process these requests as soon as possible.”
Contact Paige Cockburn
stories from New South Wales