More than three months after dozens of homes and buildings were destroyed by fires across the Mid North Coast, the State government's bushfire clean-up operation was launched at Rainbow Flat today, February 12.
NSW deputy premier and disaster recovery minister, John Barilaro, was joined by NSW police assistant commissioner and State recovery coordinator, Mick Willing, and Laing O'Rourke managing director, Cathal O'Rourke, at a razed property on Fords Road to oversee the start of the operation.
Mr Barilaro believed it was an exciting day.
"What we see is a journey ahead of us," he said.
"We're seeing action on the ground."
With close to 2,500 homes destroyed and approximately 10,000 properties impacted by the fires across the State, Mr Barilaro said the cost of the operation would near $1 billion.
However, he was confident it would be completed by June 30.
"We've mapped it out that it's possible and it's ambitious and we've got to be ambitious," Mr Barilaro said.
"This is about people's futures."
Mr Barilaro said he was aware many people felt the operation could've got underway sooner, but the extensive nature of the fires had made it difficult.
"I know for many here in the north of the State they felt this has taken far too long and I've said previously if we could've done it faster we would have," he said.
"But the crisis down south and the resources focussed on the fires as we have seen over the summer has been devastating."
Mr Willing said the recovery effort was the largest the State had ever seen.
"At this point we have over 4,000 residents, businesses and primary producers who have registered with Service NSW as a part of this clean-up effort and I would urge those people out there who are eligible to contact Service NSW," he said.
Mr Willing said Laing O'Rourke, the company contracted to complete the clean-up, had developed a prioritisation framework to establish which properties would be attended to first.
"But obviously someone has got to go first and someone has got to go last," he said.
However, he confirmed the clean-up operation would be undertaken simultaneously around the State, not on a region-by-region basis.
Mr O'Rourke said his teams would focus on clearing away debris as safely as possible so the rebuilding process could start.
He said local contractors would be engaged in affected regions not only in order to stimulate the local economy, but because it was practical.
He also said the clean-up work would be completed in collaboration with the landowners.
"We want to make sure we're engaging with people respectfully," he said.
"These are their homes that they've lost and we want to make sure they're on-board with how we're going to go about the recovery."
Mr Barilaro estimated the clean-up operation would save each affected landowner around $50,000, regardless of whether their homes were insured or not.
He also said those people who'd started the clean-up process themselves would be reimbursed, provided they filled out the appropriate documentation.
The owner of the property on which the operation was launched, Peter Hassell, welcomed the clean-up process getting underway.
He lost his house and workshop in the Hillville fire in early November.
"It's fantastic," he said.
"I was led to believe before the end of the year that this could take years to happen.
"Everything that's supposed to happen is happening now."
Any bushfire-affected landowners are urged to register with Service NSW for the free clean-up service.
Stay ahead with local news by signing up for the Great Lakes Advocate newsletter here.