Communities’ donation dilemma after fire crisis

Communities impacted by the devastating Black Summer bushfires have revealed a surprising problem during the recovery stage.

Appearing at the Royal Commission into the 2019/20 bushfire season several councils said the volume of donations was overwhelming and led to unintended outcomes.

Southern Downs Regional Council said there was an overwhelming influx of donations after Stanthorpe was hit by fires in September.

Stanthorpe resident Alain Bourzali returns to his home that was totally destroyed during the fires. (Photo: Adam Head)
Stanthorpe resident Alain Bourzali returns to his home that was totally destroyed during the fires. (Photo: Adam Head)


" The well meaning and generous spirit of the community, the local community but also from far and wide, was just overwhelming. However, it does take some management and can take away effort and resources from other aspects of recovery," council's deputy recovery co-ordinator Craig Magnussen said.

"What we did find too was that the donation of goods and services from outside the region into the region … has an economic impact in the town itself because you're taking away from local businesses that are also suffering due to the effects of drought and then bushfire.

"So the messaging that we're trying to push really hard was obviously anything is really greatly welcomed however cash was king because we didn't want to have that sort of perverse outcome."

Councils from NSW also experienced the same issue.

The Stanthorpe fire, that claimed five homes, initially broke out in a forest area and was the first of its kind, the commission heard.

"Some really harsh weather conditions culminated in the accidental lighting of a fire which quickly spread," Mr Magnussen said.

"It was not far off the outskirts of the town of Stanthorpe and with the strong winds and heat it was quickly threatening the township.

"To my recollection, this was the first time that we've been impacted in such a way, in that it destroyed houses, it was threatening a town the size of Stanthorpe.

"A lot of other residential properties and towns and villages were at threat."

The bushfire broke out during the worst drought on record which raised concerns about water supplies for the town.

"When you're trying to conserve every last drop of drinking water and needing to use a lot of it to fight fires it's not an ideal situation," Mr Magnussen said.

"It was pleasing to know that we were able, in working with emergency services, to identify and use some alternative water sources."

Mr Magnussen said the area remained in the grip of severe drought and was still trucking in water from Warwick.

Originally published as Communities' donation dilemma afte fire crisis