DISTRESSED residents returned to the charred remnants of their houses yesterday after bushfires destroyed at least 116 coastal Victorian homes.
Infernos tore through Wye River and Separation Creek over the Christmas break, leaving a path of devastation and millions of dollars worth of damage in their wake.
The Insurance Council of Australia's initial estimates put the bill at $25 million and large increases are expected in the coming days.
Buses carried locals back to what was left of their homes yesterday along the Great Ocean Road - its sides covered in smouldering charcoal.
Victorian Emergency Services Minister Jane Garrett unlocked an emergency relief fund for affected people on Saturday, with families eligible for grants of up to $1300.
She said homeowners could also access up to $32,500 to clean up and rebuild their homes or find emergency accommodation.
"While firefighters are working tirelessly to contain the bushfires, we are not in the clear yet," she said.
"I urge all those affected to remain aware of the conditions and listen to the direction of emergency management authorities."
The fires are expected to continue for weeks to come.
Colac Otway Shire Mayor Frank Buchanan called on tourists to visit the region to help with the clean-up.
He said the potential drop in tourism could be devastating for local businesses and urged the community to band together.
"Right now there is an emergency unfolding in our region so I would encourage everyone to work together as a community to help each other get through this," he said.
The Victorian and Federal governments have contributed $200,000 to move the three-day Falls Festival from Lorne to Mount Duneed.