Unchecked community tensions within bushfire towns can result in a 'second disaster' for those affected, experts warn.
Red Cross clinical psychologist Rob Gordon said a study of towns affected by the 2009 bushfire called Beyond Black Saturday showed communities exhibited distinct patterns after a disaster.
"At the actual moment of the fire going through there's often a period of confusion, disorganisation, people improvising things as best they can and there's a lot of cooperation," he said.
"Then in the aftermath, as things are restored, you have a period often of a few weeks, maybe longer, where there is tremendous cooperation and self sacrifice and people helping each other.
"What happens then is you get this sense of unity everyone pulling together, and it's based on the idea that we've been through a common experience, we've all been through it."
Dr Gordon said unfortunately this feeling dissipates and tensions tend to rise.
He said survivors need to be mindful that everyone has been through different experiences and everyone reacts differently to trauma.
IN OTHER NEWS:
"As time passes tensions start to build up because actually the disaster is something different for everyone," he said.
"Say if two families lose their house, the house can have quite a different meaning from one family to another.
"One might be a new house that's well insured and another might be an old family home in the family for generations full of heirlooms, the loss just can't be compared.
"It's quite possible for two people in the same situation to experience it very differently so one might be traumatised and the other might not."
Dr Gordon said during the time of cooperation there tends to be a lot of openness and sharing, but this can lead to resentments as people compare government entitlements and experiences.
"Then you've got the great difference of the experience of the fires," he said.
"You might have one family who remain in their house, fight the fire, have a very traumatic experience but manage to save their house... versus another family who evacuate before the fire comes, never feel under danger but everything is destroyed.
"There is a bit of a tendency for everyone to become very focused on their own problems, those who lost things will say 'well what are you worried about we've lost everything we own', while the other people say 'you've only really lost stuff, we're really traumatised and we don't know if we'll ever feel right again'."
Dr Gordon said it was important that communities were aware of this pattern and worked to avoid the 'second disaster'.
"A lot of stress and tension can start to open up in communities and I think it's very valuable for communities to be aware of that and to recognize the need to deliberately hold the community together, manage grievances and rumours," he said.
"To say we're all affected in different ways and we all need to respect each others impacts.
"We know if there are good community leaders who set the right tone these effects can be counteracted but if that doesn't happen there can be a really very painful and destructive period where long-standing relationships can be lost."
Dr Gordon said community-led recovery initiatives, supported by governments, were often the most effective programs as local leaders intimately knew community needs.