Victoria

State Coroner to investigate Wye River bushfire

The Victorian Coroner will investigate the Christmas bushfire that claimed 116 homes in Wye River and Separation Creek.

A request was made by the United Firefighters Union and three property owners for the Coroner to probe the devastating blaze, which was ignited by lightning in the Great Otway National Park.

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Wye River fire path

Animation shows the path of the Wye River fire that claimed 116 homes. Vision - www.emergencyaus.info

On Friday the State Coroner, Judge Sara Hinchey, determined that it was in the public interest to investigate the fire.

However, in order to "avoid unnecessary duplication of inquiries" the start of the coronial investigation will be deferred until after a report by the Inspector General for Emergency Management, Tony Pearce, is completed next month.

"Following the completion of this investigation, [the State Coroner] will consider the scope and form of the coronial investigation into the fire, which devastated the community," a Coroners Court spokeswoman said.

An interim report by Mr Pearce found the fire damage to Victoria's surf coast could have been much worse if authorities had not conducted a controversial backburning operation before Christmas Day and that the backburning did not create the fire that destroyed so many homes.

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However, the firefighters' union branded that report, released just two days after the fire was contained, a whitewash.

United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall said: "We have great confidence in the volunteer and career firefighters who fought to bring the blaze under control, but we still want to get to the truth. Could this fire have been controlled earlier? Was this the best way to fight it? What lessons can be learned?" 

Residents who lost their homes were also sceptical of the findings that cleared authorities of any wrongdoing, given emergency services had so little time to reflect on the events.

On Friday, Grant Stuart, who lost his Wye River home of six years in the fire, welcomed the "great decision" of the Coroner and said he was keen to see what the final inspector general report contained.

It has not yet been decided if the Coroner's investigation into the cause, origin and circumstances of the Wye River fire will involve a public inquest.

The Andrews government said it and all emergency services agencies would fully co-operate with the investigation.

Part of the role of the Coroners Court is to investigate certain types of fires and consider how they can be prevented in future.

Meanwhile, the state and federal governments have said Mornington Peninsula residents affected by last week's bushfire in Crib Point will be eligible for monetary assistance through the jointly funded Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

The fast-moving blaze, which is suspected to have been deliberately lit, gutted one house and came within 100 metres of others until a wind change on January 18.

Households are eligible for up to $32,500 in emergency re-establishment payments to pay for accommodation, repairs, rebuilding and replacing some damaged goods.

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