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‘Completely devastating’: Families torn apart with more pain to come

While their house survived the fires, they lost their shed and have no electricity, plumbing or water.

Authorities have told them it is too dangerous to return with fallen trees still covering the roads and the risk of spot fires breaking out on their 31-hectare property.

Their 14-year-old son is a paraplegic and they have been forced to put him in a nursing home so he can access the medical equipment he requires. Their two daughters, one who has autism, are staying with friends in Melbourne.

Their youngest son, who has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is staying with Mr Hutching’s boss in Bairnsdale.

“While we were elated we still have our home it’s been completely devastating for us not being able to see the kids and having them in three different locations,” said Ms Hutchings, who is camping at the Bairnsdale relief centre with her husband.

On Monday evening, the Bairnsdale relief centre at the city oval remained full of tents and caravans being used as makeshift homes for dozens of locals with nowhere else to go.

Ms Hutchings said they had been “blown away” by the kindness of those who had taken in her children. The uncertainty of not knowing when they could safely return home, however, was unbearable.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “We are doing whatever we can to get them back home. But there are people in much worse situations who have lost everything.”

The Salvation Army has organised a grant for the family to purchase a generator and it was hoped they may be able to return home this week.

Food and water supplies for the next five days were airlifted into the tiny town of Genoa on Monday by the Australian Defence Force before fire conditions turn dangerous again with temperatures expected to soar later this week.

It is the first time the hamlet has received vital supplies since the fires broke out.

Barry Walker is worried about what the future will bring.

Barry Walker is worried about what the future will bring.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Meanwhile, more than 3500 houses across the region were still without power and those with tank water were told not to drink it amid fears it was contaminated by ash from the fires.

Barry Walker, who owns the Exchange House Food Store in Bairnsdale, hasn’t had a day off in five weeks.

Each morning, he opens his shop at 3.30am with staff making fresh rolls and salads for the more than 1000 firefighters and emergency service crews battling the fires.

But he worries for the future of businesses scattered across Lakes Entrance, Paynesville, Orbost and Mallacoota, which rely on the tourism to survive.

“Our business will get through, but what really worries me is that some smaller businesses have been struggling for the last few years and this is just another nail in the coffin,” he said.

“They’ll just be forced to close down. The long-term impacts of this crisis will be devastating. We need tourists to keep coming back to East Gippsland when it’s safe to do so.”

CFA East Gippsland incident controller Brett Mitchell said the bushfires, which have killed three Victorians, could burn into March, as emergency services work to contain more than 1500 kilometres of fire edge threatening homes and lives.

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“We are only in early January and the landscape is still extremely dry,” he said.

“We are working really hard to treat hazardous trees and clear roads and trying to get access as quickly as possible into remote communities.”

East Gippsland mayor John White said the community was still counting the cost.

“We’ve had a huge drop in tourism because people have gone home due to the severity of the situation,” he said.

“Of course we are concerned, but it was the right thing to do because peoples’ lives were at risk.

“What we hope now is that we have a bumper Easter season and those who usually would have spent weeks here in summer return again in a few months.”

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