Lawyer comes face-to face-with bushfires, starts up new initiative

By Tony Zhang|23 January 2020

As the bushfires continue to burn through Australia, one lawyer has witnessed up close and personal the devastating effect and destruction of the bushfires.

James Ryan, partner and co-founder of Speirs Ryan, was on holiday when the fires hit at the worst moment possible, right near his house in Kangaroo Valley. 

“My family was impacted firsthand and I’ve been trying to drive support amongst my network for affected communities ever since,” Mr Ryan said.

Kangaroo Valley had been one of the hardest hit areas and Mr Ryan had expected the conditions to be horrific on Saturday, 4 January 2020. By the afternoon, the fires were far worse than the RFS predictions, taking a southerly hit and tore through the valley.

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“By 10.20 pm, the RFS maps showed the entire western side of the valley including our property as burnt out,” Mr Ryan said. 

The next few days were tough. The internet and power were out and many roads in the area were either closed or inaccessible from fallen trees. 

“I felt ill from the anticipation during the entire two-hour drive down. Having heard about the state of Tallowa Dam Road, we were expecting the worst,” Mr Ryan said. 

When Mr Ryan got to his home however, he couldn’t believe what he saw.                            

“It was impossible to hold back tears as we pulled into our driveway – a mix of relief, upset from the devastation, and guilt that our house was fine whilst others were lost,” Mr Ryan said.

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The fire had burnt through both sides of the property, but incredibly the house stood untouched. 

Over the following days, as the fires continued to burn around the local area, Mr Ryan realised a note left in the door. 

Unbeknownst to him, a Tasmanian Strike Team spent two days at his property, back-burning and protecting the house. 

“Words can’t describe our appreciation to those men and women,” Mr Ryan said.

“Having witnessed such devastation, generosity and overcome with the events, I needed to help.”

“The indirect impacts of these bushfires have been so widespread. So many homes have been lost, but livelihoods of so many more have been hit hard.”

Mr Ryan’s initiative is to get people back into these communities as soon as possible.

Each law firm can target a specific, affected community, and then organise a road trip to visit the affected town or village. 

“In an effort to get the valley back on its feet, we decided to treat all staff to a South Coast getaway,” Mr Ryan said.

“We have offered two nights’ accommodation fully paid, an early 3 pm Friday finish to kick start their road trip and a 20 per cent cashback on spending with local businesses of up to $200 per person.”

Speirs Ryan ensured that all spending went directly to the community, so the firm sourced only locally owned and run bed and breakfasts.

With so many towns and villages affected, law firms can identify a specific community they wish to help and get in touch with local businesses to plan a local effort that reaches out to the people affected.

Local regional and rural towns are especially a tight-knit community, so doing something like this can allow even smaller firms to plan the road trip and make a major impact in a more intimate, unique way, according to Mr Ryan. 

Mr Ryan said this initiative he organised saw a positive impact on the spirit of the community they supported in the most direct way. 

“The legal community is well placed to make a difference to affected communities,” Mr Ryan said.

“Actually visiting these affected communities and buying local [are] something that can be done now and absolutely [make] a difference. Your support will be direct and transparent.” 

Lawyer comes face-to face-with bushfires, starts up new initiative
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