Tourism returns to fire-affected towns

 Staff and customers at the Wye River General Store were happy to visit the popular tourist spot when authorities opened the Great Ocean Road on Wednesday.

Staff and customers at the Wye River General Store were happy to visit the popular tourist spot when authorities opened the Great Ocean Road on Wednesday.

WYE General Store’s manager says the re-opening of the Great Ocean Road has helped trading and getting residents back on their feet.

Brydie Payten said the Wye River’s caravan parks, pub and general store were back open for business.

The Great Ocean Road re-opened on Wednesday, 12 days after it closed when the Wye River-Jamieson Track fire destroyed 116 homes in Wye River and Separation Creek.

Ms Payten said authorities, tourists and community members had been helping residents.

“I think most people are just trying really hard to get everyone back on their feet, there’s a lot of people working hard to do that,” she said.

Ms Payten said Wye General Store staff were “pretty impressed” when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, his wife Lucy and Corangamite MP Sarah Henderson visited the store.

She said there had been “a lot of support from all services” and that the town was grateful for the assistance.

“Our local CFA has done a lot of work leading up to Christmas, all through December to make everyone especially prepared this year for fires,” Ms Payten said.

She said CFA members advised residents to install the FireReady app, gave them information about being prepared and encouraged everyone to have a bag of personal belongings packed and ready.

“Everyone was worried about fires this year because it’s so dry down in the Otways, but a lot of us were mentally prepared, at least us all here in the store were, because they did a lot of work with us and the two caravan parks and the pub,” Ms Payten said.

She said preparations in the lead-up to December 25 and the CFA training, including what to do in an emergency, helped her on the day Wye River evacuated.

Ms Payten said she and her partner Shaun called the store’s staff, organised lifts for backpackers and made sure “they were all in cars and went to Apollo Bay”.

“Everyone has a duty of care; we all had spoken about it amongst us all so they were quite aware as well,” she said.

Ms Payten said returning to Wye River and Kennett River, where she lives, was a “surreal” experience.

“It’s a bit weird going form a deserted town to a full town, open road, its good,” she said.

Ms Payten said people could donate money and gift cards for residents who lost their homes and for the CFA at the Wye General Store.

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