‘We left everything’: Residents look to rebuild their lives after bushfire

Shoalhaven City Council’s building compliance manager Colin Wood in Tathra on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Alasdair McDonald
Shoalhaven City Council’s building compliance manager Colin Wood in Tathra on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Alasdair McDonald

Tathra district homeowners got together over the weekend as they look to rebuild their lives following the March 18 bushfire.

Nienke and David Shepherd lost everything after fire engulfed their Thompsons Dr property, forcing them to drive “through flames” to safety, leaving behind their family home of 17 years.

The couple’s house, carport and a car were all destroyed by the fire as it ripped through their bush property.

“We left everything, the driveway was on fire as we were leaving,” Ms Shepherd said.

While remaining positive, they and other residents in need of a new home were hoping Saturday’s Pathway Home Tathra and Reedy Swamp Rebuilding Expo would help them in their efforts to build a “new home” from the ashes.

“It’s life clearing out the past to make way for the future,” Ms Shepherd said.

“I don’t know what I expect today, but if I can get some direction it will give us a road to travel so to speak.”

Bolstered by strong north-to-north-westerly winds, and March maximum temperature records being set along the South Coast, the fire destroyed 65 homes and damaged a further 48 in Tathra and Reedy Swamp.

According to council’s acting manager of health, building and compliance, Jonathon Pyke, 41 homes have been demolished so far.

Bega Valley Shire Council’s director of community, environment and planning, Anthony Basford, said the session aimed to “demystify the whole building and application process”, and “link people in with builders locally”.

BVSC general manager Leanne Barnes said “good outcomes” were possible, and she hoped residents would “embrace energy efficiency” during their rebuild process.

Shoalhaven City Council’s building compliance manager Colin Wood spoke to the crowd about combating possible future fire threats such as wind, embers, radiant heat and direct flame contact.

Mr Wood said 80 per cent of building losses in Australia are created by embers, which can travel in excess of 100 metres during a bushfire.

He told the crowd he understands the emotional aspect of the rebuilding process, and how difficult it will be for residents as they lodge applications with council.

“You have an opportunity now to move forward and create something special,” building designer Wendy Bergsma said.