New Wye River firies ready for Great Ocean Road summer three years after Christmas Day bushfire
Wye River CFA captain Andrew Hack with former brigade captain Roy Moriarty. (ABC South West Victoria: Meagan Rooth)
A lot has changed at Wye River since fire ripped through it and neighbouring town Separation Creek on Christmas Day three years ago.
New dwellings dot the steep hills of the Great Ocean Road hamlets, which lost a total of 116 houses that day.
The fresh, salty air remains but the feeling is a little different.
At the Wye River fire station, Andrew Hack is bracing for his first summer as brigade captain after long-serving local legend Roy Moriarty retired from the role this year.
Prior to the 2015 disaster, Mr Hack had jokingly promised Mr Moriarty he would take over the job once “the next big fire comes through”.
Now that has happened, he is in charge.
“I feel like the pressure is off me a little bit,” he said.
“It’s unlikely Wye River is going to be impacted by a major fire in the coming period.”
Wye River CFA members Andrew Hack, Roy Moriarty (then captain) and Ian Wells at Wye River in the Otway Ranges in 2015. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Time goes on
Mr Hack has watched the rejuvenation of the environment, buildings, infrastructure and people in the town.
He said Wye River was ready to shake its tag as the town that suffered so badly a handful of Christmases ago and return to the tiny, little-known haven between Lorne and Apollo Bay.
“For a long time we were off the map, then we had a greater profile as a beautiful place to visit,” he said.
“I’ve never really thought of us as a place tattooed [with] where the Christmas Day fire happened.
“But people’s memories are short, time goes on and there’s certainly been a passing of the guard.”
The Wye River CFA station has had a makeover too, with a new office, meeting room, storage shed, and gym made possible by government funding.
“We certainly made the most of our moment in the sun,” Mr Hack said.
A total of 116 homes were destroyed in the bushfire on Christmas Day, 2015. (ABC News: Stephanie Anderson)
You don’t train for recovery
Mr Moriarty estimated about 30 per cent of the area had been rebuilt since December 25, 2015.
He said Wye River and Separation Creek were much more resilient.
“In some ways it doesn’t feel like three years ago; in other ways it feels a lot longer,” he said.
“The fire fight lasted a day, but recovery lasts years … you don’t train for that.
“Generally speaking we’re all travelling along pretty well, [but] there’ll be the odd hiccup.”
On Christmas Day in 2016, about 30 people gathered for a quiet drink to mark the first anniversary of the fire.
But Mr Moriarty said spending time with family was more important these days.
“It’s a terrible day to have an anniversary, you don’t want to be doing it every Christmas,” he said.
The view from the Wye Beach Hotel in December 2018 shows signs of rejuvenation after the 2015 fire. (ABC South West Victoria: Meagan Rooth)
Business back on track
Hotelier Paul Greene owns the pub at Wye River, which has a view back to the town.
He was in the middle of renovations of his own and had a bright outlook for the future.
“It’s been quite a long journey and very difficult for many,” he said.
“Business is almost back to where it was before the fires.
“We’ve had a few rough years, but you’ve just got to get on with it.”