The fallout from Victoria's summer fires is still raw for many, even though the coronavirus pandemic may have shifted the focus.
From Monday, an inquiry into blazes that ravaged communities over summer will hold virtual meetings, due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Victoria's Inspector-General for Emergency Management, Tony Pearce, concedes moving to online meetings is not ideal, but necessary at this time.
"While coronavirus stops us gathering in large numbers, obviously we don't want the bushfire inquiry almost to be perceived as just falling into the background, while the coronavirus pandemic takes precedence," Mr Pearce told AAP.
"That's absolutely not the case - the inquiry has to continue and the only way we can get to the bottom of any real issues is to make sure we continue to provide that opportunity for community members to have their say."
Mr Pearce said it is hoped the upcoming series of online meetings will validate what the inquiry has already heard during 15 previous in-person community meetings.
He said it is unfortunate face-to-face meetings have stopped, but these will be available again during the inquiry's next phase in 2021.
"I don't think you could ever fully substitute people being right in front of you, standing there looking at you where you can actually sense the emotion and they can see into your eyes and talk to you directly," he said.
"But in lieu of having nothing at all, then these will certainly provide a pretty good opportunity for people to go close to that."
Holding off future meetings until they could be done in person was not a good idea, he said.
"There are people who, if we hold off, will simply just not come back to us down the track," he said.
In January, the state government appointed the disaster watchdog to identify any lessons from the fires, which ravaged communities across East Gippsland, north east Victoria and the Alpine region.
The inquiry's first report will examine the state's preparedness for the fire season and response, and submissions on these topics will be considered until April 17. The first report will go to the government in July.
The second report will focus on relief and recovery efforts, with submissions taken until April 2021.
The inquiry is Victorian focused and separate from the royal commission, which will consider Victoria's experience in its national outlook.
Australian Associated Press