Saturday, February 4, 2023

Gone to blazes – BlazeAid to pack up and leave

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With a heavy heart, BlazeAid camp coordinator Cindy Lusted announced the group would be packing up and leaving Rappville and the Richmond Valley by January 20. The departure was confirmed on Friday, January 6.

Ms Lusted had been hopeful there would be a call coming through this afternoon from Kyogle Caravan Park confirming a camp space for the 10 motorhomes that are part of the BlazeAid camp.

There was no call.

Cindy and husband Wayne Lusted said they are tired of looking for a suitable camp.

BlazeAid had to leave the Casino Showgrounds in October because of a $10million upgrade. The camp relocated to Rappville Sports Ground.

“We just want three more months,” Ms Lusted said.

“Last week we had 12 jobs on the go. We did nine of them and now we’re down to three. If we can work like that for the next three months …”

But instead they only have two weeks to finish fences they’ve started.

Resident Amanda Crabtree said she lost everything in the 2019 fires.

“I’m still on BlazeAid’s books,” she said.

The wet weather has restricted anyone getting out on Amanda’s farm to do some fencing.

That fencing is unlikely to happen now.

There has been a mixed community response to BlazeAid using the sports ground. Some residents want the sports ground back for community use.

IndyNR.com rang Rappville Social Club president Dave Newby several times to ask for a comment. We were unable to reach him.

Rappville Commercial Hotel publican Lisa Stewart said BlazeAid volunteers had been “an emotional ear” for those recovering from the 2019 bushfires and the February floods.

“From what I’ve heard, everyone who has had BlazeAid help said their stress has subsided because their fencing has been fixed,” Ms Stewart said.

“It is imperative BlazeAid stay.”

Ms Stewart had no issue with BlazeAid using the sports ground as a camp. She said a few people were vocal about wanting BlazeAid out but those few did not speak for all of the community – and certainly not for her, she said.

Richmond Valley Council general manager Vaughan Macdonald said the chief executive of BlazeAid confirmed they would decamp by January 20.

This was “in line with the licence agreement for use,” Mr Macdonald said.

“Nothing has changed unless BlazeAid has been successful in securing another venue from another organisation to establish a camp.”

The Lusteds said they will try to finish the fences they’ve started – “but we won’t be doing any new ones”.

They have two weeks to complete those jobs. Then they pack up and move to another area needing their help.

BlazeAid chief executive Melissa Jones confirmed BlazeAid would be out of Rappville on January 20.

“We are really keen to find a new venue in the surrounding council areas so that we can finish our work – more than 100 properties still need to be completed – so we are appealing for a suitable venue to host us,” Ms Jones said.

“We need a space with a kitchen and dining area, toilets and showers and power and water for vans.

“While I feel such a heartfelt pull to help those in need, I also feel an enormous responsibility to look after BlazeAid’s most precious assets – our volunteers. Without these wonderful people, BlazeAid would cease to exist and I can’t have them camped out under a tree.”

Ms Jones said council had hosted BlazeAid for the last couple of years, “but we now need another place to go to finish our work”.

“If we can’t find somewhere in the next few days, we will need to shut our camp down,” she said.

This article appeared on indyNR.com on 6 January 2023.

Related story: Should BlazeAid move on or stay?

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