Snowy Valleys Council area fears mass exodus of population if homes are not rebuilt soon

REBUILD: Batlow homes destroyed in the wake of the Dunns Road fire. Picture: Les Smith
REBUILD: Batlow homes destroyed in the wake of the Dunns Road fire. Picture: Les Smith

Fire-affected communities are on the brink of seeing a population exodus if affordable living options are not rebuilt rapidly, a council mayor has warned.

The Dunns Road bushfire, which ripped through the Snowy Valleys, was officially declared out on Saturday afternoon - 50 days after it was sparked by a suspected lightning strike between Tarcutta and Adelong.

The blaze destroyed 182 homes and countless other structures as it burned through 333,940 hectares of farms, forestry plantations and national park.

"It's a desperate need that people who have been left with unlivable houses be given local alternatives rather than having to leave the district entirely," said Snowy Valleys mayor James Hayes.

"The worse case scenario is that people pack up and leave the towns altogether because there's nowhere to live."

As a temporary measure, Mr Hayes said the community is looking to use its caravan parks to provide better makeshift accommodation for its displaced residents and itinerant workers.

"Particularly in Batlow where the backpackers hostel burnt down as well as AirBnBs, we need places for our tourists, temporary horticulture workers and residents can live," he said.

"We really don't even know how many AirBnBs we have lost, but I'd say it's a significant number.

"At least, on the Tumut side of Batlow, there's been a lot of accommodation grounds lost."

While the council continues to appeal to government and insurance agencies to hurry the rebuilding work, Mr Hayes said every effort will be made to keep the work local.

"There's plenty of work to go around," he said.

He also said that he and his fellow councillors would be encouraging rebuilding efforts to be made in accordance with bushfire-approved codes.

"It might be more expensive, but it also means more peace of mind and that is so important," Mr Hayes said.

While a lot of the work will be done by builders that are trucked in to the area by insurance companies, Riverina based builders are hopeful to see an increase to their jobs.

"There are a few builders in Wagga that can do that insurance work, but it won't take up too many of them," said builder and developer Anthony Corbett.

The increased work around the Snowy Valley's worksites has coincided with a sudden downturn in work across Wagga, said Mr Corbett.

"Developments have slowed a bit in Wagga over the last 12 months, I'd say new housing has slowed a bit," Mr Corbett said.

Mr Corbett believes the downturn is a reflection of the scrutiny banks have been under during the recent royal commission, resulting in fewer loans and mortgages being given out.

But, while the developments might have slowed, local tradespeople continue to be in high demand, and Mr Corbett believes that will only become more apparent as the rebuilding efforts continue in fire-affected communities.

"It's always been the case, or at least the last five to eight years, that it's hard to get a tradesperson to your job," he said.

"Tilers in particular are flat out. Carpenters as well, they do a lot of different work at a job site.

"Also the licenced tradespeople, electricians and plumbers, you can't have just anyone doing that kind of work.

"We have a lot of them in Wagga, but it's hard to get them to your job straight away. Some plumbers will do on-call work, but they're always in demand so it's hard."