South Moree residents raise concerns about asbestos contamination from burnt-out houses

Just over 50 years ago when Moree resident Sonny Clissold bought his house in Grace Street, the area was "beautiful". Now, houses in this area of south Moree have been devalued as a result of the ongoing issue of deliberately-lit house fires and Mr Clissold's home is "basically worth nothing".

"Five years ago we would have got $150,000 for these houses," Mr Clissold's neighbour Kevin Johns, who has lived in the same street for 25 years, said.

"Now we'd be lucky to get $50,000. You wouldn't give them away now."

"If these values go down and rates go down, people on the other side of town are affected because their rates go up," friend and former councillor Michael Ivanov added.

Mr Johns and Mr Clissold said the issue of burnt-out houses has been a problem over the past 10 years, estimating they would have seen "80-odd" houses burnt in that time.

"It's constant, non-stop," Mr Clissold said.

"You hear the fire brigade go past and just say, 'there's another one'."

There are currently two burnt-out houses in their street alone, and more in the surrounding neighbourhood. One house in their street has been re-lit three times in the last two weeks alone. It was originally burnt-out four years ago and is yet to be cleared by its owner. Another vacant house has been lit twice recently, and if it wasn't for the next-door neighbour who was quick to put out both fires, it would have also gone up in flames.

With many land-owners shirking their responsibility to clear burnt-out houses and council only able to clear a handful each year due to limited funds, many of these dwellings can sit there for years, which Mr Clissold and Mr Johns said invites "kids and drug addicts" to re-light them.

Their biggest concern is for their health, as the majority of houses burned down in their area contain asbestos.

"Asbestos is blowing out of these houses and nothing seems to be getting done, at least not enough," Mr Johns said.

"My granddaughter had to be taken to Dubbo Hospital recently because she's got asthma."

Fire and Rescue NSW Moree relieving station officer Steve Hitchcock said whenever an old fibro house is lit on fire, it becomes friable which is when it becomes a health hazard.

Mr Hitchcock, who has only been relieving in Moree for the past few weeks, estimates there'd be a house fire in Moree once a week on average.

"Quite often it's the same house being burnt again," he said.

"It's an ongoing problem."

Mr Hitchcock said when firefighters believe asbestos is in a building, they take a number of precautions. Once the fire is out, they wet down their uniforms, bag them up and send them to Sydney for special cleaning.

They also bag the hose, tape the area with a hazard sign, warning people not to enter and spray PVA glue, which has been dyed red or blue, onto the exposed broken edges of the fibro to hold in the asbestos, which Mr Hitchcock said makes it "fairly stable for a period of time, but it's not forever".

"Our responsibility is about putting the fire out, keeping people away and safe from asbestos," he said.

"Once the fire is out and the tape is up, that's the end of our responsibility. It's then the responsibility of the owner to clear it."

Mr Hitchcock said firefighters will spray any building they believe to contain asbestos with glue, unless it's a safety issue.

"If it's a danger to us, we won't go inside a building just to spray it," he said.

According to a recent survey conducted by council, there are currently 45 burnt-out houses in Moree and only one is guaranteed to not contain asbestos.

Mr Johns and Mr Clissold would like to see all of these houses cleared and have been in contact with Moree Plains Shire councillors and council staff about the issue, as well as our federal and state members Mark Coulton and Adam Marshall.

"Mark Coulton is looking into the insurance side of things to make it that money must be held from the insurance pay-out to clear a block up to stop people from leaving it like that," Mr Ivanov said.

"Adam Marshall has got the Minister for Environment taking it up as an urgent matter."

It is believed a late report will be presented at this Thursday's committee meeting to address the issue.

Mr Johns, Mr Clissold and Mr Ivanov aren't blaming council, they'd just like to see something done about the issue which they say has "gone on too long".

"It shouldn't be up to council, it's not council's fault," Mr Ivanov said.

"Council uses ratepayer funds to demolish two or three houses a year but are unable to do anymore.They are also restricted by the fact it takes some years for council to take control of a site for unpaid rates. Insurance companies say they have paid out in some cases and have done all they are required.

"What recourse is left to the residents left living next door to these atrocities? Whose responsibility is it when a house is left burnt-out, abandoned and causing serious health risks to ratepayers and residents who find themselves in a position of outright helplessness?"