By Claire Ottaviano
BUSHFIRE ‘sifters’ are going to remarkable lengths to search for and find precious possessions thought to have perished in the flames.
Sifting is a small but important part of Disaster Relief Australia’s (DRA) role helping Perth Hills’ residents recover from the Wooroloo Bushfire.
Last week, in Disaster recovery in good hands, (Echo News, March 26), Echo News toured DRA’s Mundaring-based mission control centre and met with volunteers from around Australia.
As well as providing practical and emotional assistance by cutting down trees, conducting aerial surveillance and counselling when needed, volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to help those who have lost everything by combing through ash in a hunt to recover priceless heirlooms.
Volunteer Dave Nicolson was on one of the DRA teams when they unearthed jewellery and other items from a Wooroloo home last week.
“We went out there with knowledge the roof wasn’t looking too good,” he said.
“It was exactly what we thought, so we spent an hour and half of work to clear the area before we could even get started.
“Within the first five to 10 minutes of searching we found wedding rings and Pandora bracelets that the dad had hidden away for presents.
“They just needed a clean-up and they were perfect.
“The husband was going nuts, he was super stoked.”
First, the team speaks to residents to create a mud map of where rooms and items used to be in the house.
Then the needle in the haystack work begins.
“We also found the great-grandmothers necklace with a cross – it definitely has character now,” Mr Nicolson said.
“They never expected to see it again, they were very impressed we’d even found it.
“When it’s time to go, you feel bad that you’re leaving them because you just want to stay and try to find more things, you get attached really quickly.
“It’s a different experience to the other stuff, chopping trees and such, that’s emotional enough, then you’ve got that – it really hits home.”
This DRA operation, called Operation Woods is now in its fifth weekly rotation.
About 50 per cent of volunteers are WA local and the other half have been flown in from other states.
As a military-style run organisation, many of its volunteers are army veterans who join for the comradery and routine the not-for-profit provides.
Operation Woods is also the first DRA operation in WA with a permanent base now being set up locally for future need.
The operation will continue for another several weeks.
To volunteer, call 02 8072 9130.