Mind the children: Plenty of care is taken at Macedon Child Care. Photo: Angela Wylie
The credo ''work in the city, live in the country'' draws families to the wooded villages of Melbourne's commuter belt but fear of fire and the love of children is keeping many workers at home.
Childcare providers in bushfire areas have special provisions for high-risk days and in many cases the provisions preclude parents leaving the area to go to their jobs.
Macedon mother of two Jill Robertson said that although it could be difficult for families to adjust their schedules, they had to accept it as part of life in fire-prone areas.
''For a lot of people where both parents work in the city, it's a bit of a bind,'' she said. ''Having said that, your family comes first and when you live in a bushfire area you just have to work with it.''
Macedon Child Care requires families to provide a contact who must remain within 30 minutes of the centre on days of ''extreme'' fire danger, such as yesterday.
''We've got to be overprotective for worst-case scenarios,'' the centre's owner, Kelly Butler, said. ''We've got to go above and beyond to make sure that our kids, our parents and our staff are safe. As a mother myself I don't want anything but the top-quality care.''
Ms Butler said the experience of childcare providers was far from the archetype of a carefree summer. ''I hate this time of year,'' she said. ''Other people say, 'Oh, I love (summer)'. For us, this is stress.''
Eltham Child Care Co-Operative co-ordinator Natasha Mills echoed that sentiment. ''I hate this time of year because it's a lot of extra stress,'' she said.
Ms Mills said the Black Saturday bushfires had forced childcare providers to plan for fire specifically, rather than wrapping it into a more general emergency plan.
The Eltham Co-Op closes on days when fire risk is classified as ''extreme'' or ''code red''. On ''severe'' fire days, it asks that a parent or nominated contact be available to collect children.
If that contact were in the city and hoping to catch a Metro train home in time with a fire on the horizon, Ms Mills said, ''they would never make it''.
She said families had become much more aware of the risks in bushfire-prone areas since Black Saturday and were demanding better planning from their childcare providers. ''It's changed a lot of people's thinking,'' she said. ''A lot of my new families are asking, 'What is your procedure on the high-risk days?' Five years ago you never would have heard that.''