Royal Commission: Bushfire communities 'left vulnerable' during emergency

EMERGENCY SUPPORT: Jingellic emergency welfare centre'scommunity safety officer Mary Hoodless.
EMERGENCY SUPPORT: Jingellic emergency welfare centre'scommunity safety officer Mary Hoodless.

Stories being told about the summer bushfires are often tales of community members having to cope for themselves.

In Lobethal, just outside Adelaide, people did not want to leave the town to get outside assistance and the decision was made not to wait for the South Australian government.

Adam Weinert told the National Natural Disaster Arrangements Royal Commission on Tuesday how the region was left isolated with no communication.

"What that caused was an internal amount of fear, trepidation and panic," he said.

He was part of setting up a "spontaneous" community recovery centre.

"That effort - purely run by unofficial local volunteers, who had no liability cover over themselves whatsoever, which was a big concern of mine for the people running this - ran for 16 days until a recovery centre appointed by the state of South Australia was set up in January," Mr Weinert said.

"We were left as a community very vulnerable.


"Were it not for a series of individuals with the right experience, knowledge and skill sets, we wouldn't have been able to achieve what we did and the situation would have been completely different.

"I don't think we would have been able to turn what was chaos into order so rapidly."

He admitted mistakes were made, and they got it wrong when it came to the euthanasia of animals, but called for a "relief centre in a box" be available in the future so experts advice can be made available.

Over on the NSW-Victorian border, firefighter Samuel McPaul was tragically killed when his truck was hit by extreme winds and rolled near Jingellic on December 30.

There were two other people in that truck, but in the hours after the incident during the summer bushfires near, it was difficult to even get an ambulance to the town.

Another man who suffered burns ended up at Jingellic's emergency welfare centre under the care of community safety officer Mary Hoodless.

She told the Royal Commission on Tuesday that despite trying to call for an ambulance, they were told at first that paramedics were not allowed to drive on the roads into Jingellic during the fire.

Eventually a member of NSW Ambulance arrived.

"Because we're on the border, we're never sure if those services are going to come from Victoria or NSW - you can get an ambulance from either," Mrs Hoodless said.

"The ambulance officer threw me some burns bandages and said 'you're doing the right thing, I can't stay, I've got another six to go to'."

An Ambulance Victoria helicopter arrived later that evening and transported the man to Alfred Hospital for treatment to his burns.

Mrs Hoodless was also asked about how the Jingellic emergency welfare centre was set up and what services it provided.

She said volunteers rushed out to buy groceries to make lunch for 50 people on the first day, but that quickly grew and they were soon making 400 meals per day.