Cost of fire put at $40m

THE cost of the Harrietville bushfire to Victoria’s alpine region has been put at $40 million.

Alpine Council chief executive Ian Nicholls revealed the figure yesterday, in front of Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, at a packed public meeting at Boynton’s Winery, Porpunkah.

Earlier, Mr Ryan announced he’d appointed an independent commissioner to prepare a report into the handling of the first 72 hours of the fire.

It comes after recent criticism of the Department of Sustainability and Environment for not putting the fire out quickly.

Mr Ryan said the report by former British government adviser and hostage negotiator Michael Hallowes would be finished in a matter of weeks.

“He will gather relevant material from the respective agencies and then he will come to the alpine region to hear from you,” Mr Ryan told the meeting.

Mr Ryan appointed Mr Hallowes to the position on Tuesday night and has briefed him on the concerns people have shared with member for Benalla Bill Sykes.

The finished report will be released to the public.

The hour-long meeting was attended by about 100 people, including representatives from the tourism industry, wine growers, police and local councillors.

Mr Ryan was reluctant to focus on problems, such as smoke damage to grapes, telling a packed room he preferred to look at solutions.

He started by promising the Great Alpine Road would be open by the end of next week in preparation for the Labour Day and Easter long weekends.

He said the state government would do everything in its power to help get the region back on its feet and announced $10,000 of funding to the tourism industry to start putting out the word that the alpine region was open for business.

He acknowledged the deceased Department of Sustainability and Environment firefighters Katie Peters and Steven Kadar.

Outside the rain poured down.

Mr Ryan finished his introduction by saying “isn’t it just wonderful to hear God’s orchestra in play”.

Federal member for Indi Sophie Mirabella yesterday welcomed the independent review.

She first raised concerns about the management of the fire in a speech to Parliament two weeks ago.

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