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State government releases $5m of bushfire funds for urgent needs

Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said if approved, the funds announced on Saturday would be accessible to affected homeowners, farmers and bereaved families “within days”.

“We’re moving as quickly as we can, we’ve got locals who sit on the independent panel to make sure we know where this money needs to go,” she said.

“People who were doing it tough feel like there are people who are worse off. But if you feel like you’re struggling, you evacuated or you’ve had damaged property, please ring 1800 560 760.”

But those who have lost their holiday homes in the fires should not expect to receive any of the $24 million raised by the appeal fund.

It’s a “black and white” decision to support those who are literally without a roof over their heads, according to Pat McNamara, the chair of the Victorian Bushfire Appeal fund’s advisory board.

“We felt the intent of the donors is to deal with people who are homeless, and if you had a second home, you’re not homeless,” he said.

“We are aware of the need out there, but we also want to ensure there’s transparency in the process and donors want to ensure it’s going to the right places.”

He said Australian Taxation Office regulations and the Charities Act had to be followed strictly when it came to donations, with charitable donations “for helping people in desperate need”, and holiday homes and businesses not covered in that category.

The allocation of another $16.5 million from the appeal fund will be announced in coming days.

Ms Neville said the first tract of money announced on Saturday would cover “very urgent and immediate needs” such as temporary accommodation.

Ten fires were still burning across the state on Saturday afternoon, with 11 areas in East Gippsland and the state’s north-east under advice warnings.

Fire authorities are expecting “more activity” from ongoing fires in the coming days due to southerly winds and increasing hot temperature conditions, Ms Neville said.

“We’re still very early in the season and continuing to see this fire activity where those fires exists, and new fires start all the time,” she said.

The Princes Highway to Mallacoota will be re-opened from 8.30am on Sunday, allowing holidaymakers who left the seaside town by boat and air to return to collect their cars, boats and caravans for the first time.

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The Victorian Bushfire Appeal has raised $24 million so far, with 100 per cent of donations to go to bushfire affected areas, as the appeal’s administration costs are being absorbed by the state government.

Of the $5 million released on the weekend, around $1.5 million will be given to communities in north-east Victoria, and $2.5 million will be given to those in East Gippsland. The money was calculated based on property losses in each area.

More than 13,000 emergency relief grants have already been given to people in fire-affected communities.

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