New Cessnock City Council community recovery officer Melissa Boucher helping community rebuild after 2019/20 fires

SCENE: Firefighting aircraft assists the Pokolbin Rural Fire Brigade at the Owendale fire near Broke last summer. Picture: Lewis Drayton
SCENE: Firefighting aircraft assists the Pokolbin Rural Fire Brigade at the Owendale fire near Broke last summer. Picture: Lewis Drayton

As the new fire season approaches, some residents in the badly-affected Wollombi area are still trying to rebuild from last summer's catastrophic bushfires.

The village was swamped by the Little L and Crumps Complex fires and the Owendale blaze in Pokolbin State Forest, which burned for many weeks across the warmer months.

But to help those areas recover, a new position has been created at Cessnock City Council.

Melissa Boucher recently started as the council's Community Recovery Officer,a position which has been appointed to 22 local government areas in NSW that were the worst-affected by last summer's bushfires.

Up to 100 structures - including houses, outhouses and sheds - were damaged or destroyed across the Cessnock LGA throughout the season, Ms Boucher said, but that figure may be more as there could be people affected who hadn't come forward.

Ms Boucher, who has 20 years experience in the health industry, said her job was to reach out to people who had been impacted and find out what kind of support they need to rebuild.

Melissa Boucher

Melissa Boucher

"That might be grants to help them clear their property of damage or mental health support," she said.

"Mental health and wellbeing is a significant issue that's been compounded by coronavirus.

"It can be really challenging for people to navigate all the information. Some people may not know they need this kind of support. It's still so raw and they may not necessarily want to go down that path.

"It's really important to ensure the community leads the way to tell me what they need."

Her responsibilities also include preparing the community for the fire season ahead, such as the upcoming Rural Fire Service Get Ready Weekend later this month.

IN THE NEWS:

Ms Boucher said after speaking with the RFS, she believed there may have been some in the community who weren't fully equipped for the 2019/20 blazes.

"Particularly newer residents, they may not understand the depth of preparation required and the need to evacuate at short notice," she said.

As part of the initiative, a Community Resilience Network will also be established comprising local service and community groups to help coordinate and contribute to recovery and resilience activities.

This story New position a helping hand to rebuild after last summer's fires first appeared on Newcastle Herald.