Kiah store reopens seven months on from fires; owner 'blessed' by community support

 Amit Rishi is thrilled he has been able to reopen Kiah General Store after 7 long months. Picture: Denise Dion
Amit Rishi is thrilled he has been able to reopen Kiah General Store after 7 long months. Picture: Denise Dion

Seven months after bushfire damage forced its closure, the iconic Kiah General Store reopened to customers this week.

As well as servicing local residents, anyone travelling the Princes Hwy over the Victorian border would know the little store well.

However, since January, residents have been forced to travel to Eden to collect their post and buy fuel, as owner Amit Rishi dealt with the aftermath of the devastating summer.

Mr Rishi, who lives on the property, said he was so happy to be open again, and feels blessed to be living in this community.

"At least I'm working now, too much was was happening and I didn't even know what COVID was because I haven't really been outside for three months, except for a haircut and a trip to the hospital," he said.

"I was feeling really low, but I can feel a little bit lighter now.

"The meaning of community, I learnt it here. The bushfire happened, a very bad thing, but it taught us a lot of good things too.

"Water is everything, water is life."

Mr Rishi said he always wanted to get back to work after helping save his store from the blaze. However, the traumatic events of January have taken time to overcome.

"I filled the gutters with water and left 20 minutes before the fire came through, I don't have any words for that, I have never seen anything like it," Mr Rishi said.

I didn't even know what COVID was because I haven't really been outside for three months, except for a haircut and a trip to the hospital

Amit Rishi

The water supply to the house and store was cut off after the tank was contaminated and badly damaged. It needed replacing, which finally occurred in July.

According to Mr Rishi, six pallets of stock were lost in the fire and now a further $15,000-$20,000 worth of stock is out of date and will be wasted.

The petrol bowsers, shed and house were also severely impacted, but with the support of his community Mr Rishi has been navigating how to recover, dealing with his Sydney-based landlord, insurance companies and grant applications.

Mr Rishi said after losing the church and hall in the fires, the Kiah community began using the remains of the Kiah General Store shed as a place to meet.

 A church in Kiah, south of Eden was destroyed in the Border fire which roared north in the southerly change on Saturday, January 4. Photo: RFS

A church in Kiah, south of Eden was destroyed in the Border fire which roared north in the southerly change on Saturday, January 4. Photo: RFS

"It was the safest place in Kiah, there was no hall anymore and the community was gathering there, people need somewhere to go," he said.

"The community kept me going, I was so blessed they were here."

Mr Rishi got married in November last year, but his wife is currently stranded in India waiting for a visa.

"I'm so glad I ended up in Kiah, this is the place I want to live. I haven't seen a better place than this in my whole life," he said.

With the NSW-Victorian border now closed to restrict the spread of COVID-19, Mr Rishi anticipates further impact to his business.

"Yes, it will affect me but we can't do much. It's not only me, everyone is struggling, we just hope for the best."