There is a long road ahead for the residents of the NSW town of Tathra. On Sunday the 18th of March a bushfire swept through the town damaging close to 70 homes and leaving destruction in its wake.
Making matters worse is all the asbestos from the burnt and damaged homes that has become airborne after the fire.
The fire was initially on track to miss the town by 100 meters before a strong gust of wind put it on a collision course with the Surfside community, propelling the fire through the centre of town. Fortunately, residents were able to be evacuated in time and to date there have been no deaths or significant injuries.
Although the fire may have passed, the danger has not, with countless damaged homes now contaminated with asbestos as well as airborne asbestos fibres. This asbestos contamination along with structurally damaged buildings has prevented the displaced residents of Tathra - many of whom are staying in the Bega community centre - from returning home.
Rural fire service crews have taped off damaged housing believed to be contaminated with asbestos and are awaiting samples to be lab tested for confirmation.
The clean-up and returning of asbestos contaminated properties to their owners is expected to be handled on a case by case basis with landholders liaising with authorities.
As of last Thursday some residents have been allowed to return to the town to survey the damage caused by the fire; however, no one will be allowed to return permanently until the town is deemed safe by authorities.
The tragedy that has taken place in Tathra is a timely reminder of the constant risk posed by asbestos and the importance of having it removed from our homes and communities. We sincerely hope what has happened at Tathra will act as a wake up call and fuel renewed efforts to say good bye to asbestos for good. Although Bushfires might be an unavoidable part of lviing in Australia, asbestos contimaination doesn't have to be.