Bushfires: the difference kindness has made

Many bushfire survivors in Mogo are coming forward for help for the first time. Local resident Richard Adams is grateful to all the people whose donations and kindness continue to make that support possible.
Richard Adams says the blaze on his property was like a “hurricane of fire”. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera
Richard knows some people have been hesitant to ask for help. “Some of them they're old fashioned; been through depressions and so you can do this without a grant … It’s sad to see so many people affected and unsure of what to do or too proud to reach out to get help.

“They were that traumatised by it, I think, they just didn’t want to come forward or they felt they wanted to be independent and try and do it on their own.
"But now they're realising that they do need help … So we’re seeing that even in the last few weeks, that there's a lot of people that still need assistance,” he says. “If anyone needs help, well, there's plenty of help there."
Richard Adams
Richard says the New Year’s Eve blaze swept onto his own property near the New South Wales South Coast tourist town “like a hurricane of fire. I could see it coming down from the hill and within five minutes virtually everything was catching fire. It was that hot. Anything that would burn did burn.”

He tried to save as much as he could but the fire damaged his house and destroyed his shed, machinery and work tools. “I lost a roof, a good part of the structural beams within one side of the house. And windows, water tanks, water pumps, half a laundry, electrical, septic tank was gone.”
Richard shows Red Cross’ Monica Kincade the fire’s path across his property. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera
His home is surrounded by forest and it wasn’t until the next morning he could clear the trees that had fallen across the road and drive into town.

When he got there he saw “masses of people wandering around the evacuation centres and everywhere was full. There was that much smoke. No communication, the telephones weren’t working, no power, no shopping centres. A lot of people were unsure what to do.”

Richard says that day it felt like a war zone. “You'd be driving along and power poles were falling over – a week later they were still burning, no one put them out so they were just falling across the road.”

For months afterwards trees continued to burn underground, he says. “I've seen some television footage after a nuclear bomb and you see the remnants of trees – that’s what it reminded me of.”
Thanks to generous donors, Red Cross has been able to give Richard a grant to help rebuild his home. “I've got somewhere to live now, [thanks] to Red Cross and other entities. That’s helped, otherwise, I don’t know, the way you think about things would be a lot different."
Because he is a carpenter he has been able to do most of the rebuilding himself. “I feel for people who are not able to do that type of thing because of age or not knowing how. The money’s gone probably twice as far for me because I'm able to just buy the materials and get the job done.”

Richard belongs to Mogo’s Chamber of Commerce and with other members he has been helping the community and local businesses to get back on their feet. ”Some members got together, they started getting assistance and helping. Like, evacuation centres where there was food and donations and that – just to help get that set-up and get a little bit more organised.

“Helping people get back to normal, getting them water especially on rural blocks – a lot of people had no water. Their houses may have been there but as for the rest of the infrastructure, wasn’t there. There were some nice people taking generators and giving them to people so they could keep food. A lot of people couldn’t get into town. So from there we then worked out what people’s needs were.

“Then COVID hit and slowed everything up with communication, being able to get out to people. But we kept in contact to make sure people were okay and try and organise some things locally.”
Some of the many burnt trees on Richard’s property. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera
Richard reckons for himself it’s going to take a couple of years “before things get back to [where] you don’t have to fix something that was burned by the fire”.

The clean-up alone took a lot of time, he says. “I didn’t even have a hammer after the fire … just simple little things to fix, [because] something was gone, you were left not being able to do a thing.”

Because of demand, it was 16 weeks before he could get a new water tank, he has yet to get internet again, and there are some things that can simply never be replaced. “I don’t think you'd ever replace 40 years of collecting tools.”

He knows for some recovery will take even longer. “I'd imagine Christmas is going to come and people are still going to be trying to work out if they build a new house. What they can afford, were they underinsured, are they going to end up with a lot smaller, is it better just to sell?

“You're seeing this daily, people are still trying to sift through what the insurances have covered … and then you’ve got the DA [Development Application] process.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer of complications that will impact recovery, he says. “Getting tradesmen down here, and there’s only a certain amount in New South Wales. The borders are not opening up yet so some family members [who] live interstate they can't come and help.”

Richard says he is very grateful for the support he and his community have received. “It was difficult just after the fires. I'm a pretty hard person, and put up with a lot of things over the years, but to have someone give you a chainsaw, it brought tears to your eyes".

“[The] generosity of people – whether it’s in a form of some funds or whether it’s to come and give you a hand for the day or even a couple of hours – makes a big difference,” he says. “Without their support and their kindness we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

He would like to find a way to thank everyone who has helped. “I'm hoping we can give back to people, internationally and within Australia, some form of a big thank you. If they're ever in the area just drop in and I'm sure everyone will be happy to see them.”

Richard says, six-plus months on, he is tired and there’s still a lot to do but he is getting there. “It makes you feel a lot better you’ve got somewhere, the light turns on and you’ve got cold food and the roof doesn’t leak anymore …

“Every day is another day and you get a bit closer to getting things to the way it was.”

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