The Royal Commission into the 'black summer' bushfires has begun despite significant challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Residents of fire-affected communities have been given additional time to prepare submissions, with the deadline extended to April 28.
Mayor of Snowy Valleys Council, James Hayes has welcomed the submission extension and further encouraged his residents to make their voices heard.
"[People] ring me and tell me about their concerns and I always say to them, 'have you considered putting up a submission'," Mr Hayes said.
"Some [submissions] might be a little controversial, some would be pretty angry, but it's an opportunity to have your say and I'd hope that'd be taken seriously."
The deadline has been extended only from the previous date on April 17, giving communities 11 additional days to prepare something.
"I think it's a good amount of time, we don't want to drag it all out too long," Mr Hayes said.
However, Tumbarumba resident and fire-evacuee Lenore Sutton questions whether the time will be enough for her community to recover from the emotional effects of the fires and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I honestly think because of the virus, the bushfires have been forgotten," Ms Sutton said.
"I often wonder, what's left that could hit us now? Those affected have not gotten over what's happened to them to be able to process it all."
Up to 400 submissions have been so far received as the ceremonial hearings began last Thursday.
Chairperson of the commission, Mark Binskin, addressed those gathered via the virtual hearing on Thursday, detailing how the coronavirus concerns have impacted proceedings.
"I would like to mention how, over the past month and a half, commissioners have visited many fire-devastated regions and held 17 community forums throughout fire-affected areas," Commissioner Binskin said.
"Unfortunately, while we continued with some fire ground visits in the last few weeks, we have not been able to complete the remainder of our scheduled forums before the COVID-19 health measures meant we could no longer conduct face-to-face community engagement."
It is understood the commission managed to carry out visits to Tumbarumba as well as to the Blue Mountains, the south coast from Ulladulla to Eden, Tenterfield and Casino in NSW.
The Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Marcoola in Queensland, Darwin in North Territory, Swan Valley in Western Australia, Mallacoota and Orbost in Victoria have also been visited throughout March.
To begin April, the commission toured fire-grounds near Canberra and the Southern Highlands, before the travel was impinged by restrictions.
Dubbed as the 'Black Summer' the recent fire season burnt up to 10 million hectares across the nation and as of March 28, had cost $600 million in insurance claims.
The commission also heard that up to 100 local government areas have now qualified for assistance under Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.
Senior counsel assisting the commission, Dominique Hogan-Doran told the ceremonial hearing "new arrangements are being made so that public hearings can continue in a digital format".
"[H]earings may need to be fewer and shorter than we had originally planned, but they will proceed. As is the case [of Thursday's hearing], it is unlikely that members of the public will be permitted to attend any of our electronic hearings in person, but these e-hearings will be public in the sense that they will be live-streamed and accessible via the commission's website," Ms Hogan-Doran said.
With recommendations to be delivered by August 31, the commissioner said that they would be forging ahead with hearings.
"This short timeframe will ensure we provide practical recommendations ahead of the next bushfire season," Commissioner Binskin said.
The recommendations will form the backbone for future disaster mitigation strategies.
"We expect also to explore Australia's arrangements for improving resilience and adapting to the changing climate," Ms Hogan-Doran said.
"What action should be taken to mitigate bushfire risks? To protect lives, livelihoods, infrastructure and habitat?
But after witnessing the horrors of the fires unfolding around her town, and spending several months evacuated in Junee, Ms Sutton worries the recommendations will go unheard.
"When it's all over with, will people just stick their head back in the sand and forget about it?" she said. "People didn't listen before the fires, will they listen afterwards?"