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Hazelwood Coal Mine fire

Victoria endured one of its hottest and driest summers in 2014. Significant fires broke out across the State and on Sunday 9 February a fire took hold of the Hazelwood Coal Mine in the State's east.

La Trobe University Journalism graduate and State Political Reporter for 3AW, Lauren Hilbert, was one of the first broadcast journalists on the scene.

"The smoke stung my eyes the first time I reported onsite, but it depended on how the wind was blowing" says Lauren.

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Exposing the health risks

It burned for 45 days and became the largest and longest burning mine fire in the Latrobe Valley. Smoke and ash from the fire covered the nearby town of Morwell, compromising the respiratory and general health of residents.

"A lot of the residents were visibly distressed and some wore masks to cope with the compromised air quality. Some houses were literally covered in centimetres of ash.

"But what made it worse was that many in the community were economically disadvantaged and couldn't physically get out of the situation."

Lauren's coverage of the event together with coverage provided by other media outlets exposed the many and complex problems posed by the mine fire.

The government responded by providing free travel for residents to escape the toxic environment, and industrial vacuum cleaners to affected residents to help them remove ash from their homes.

On 11 March 2014, a day after the fire was declared under control, an independent inquiry was announced into the fire and its impacts on the health and wellbeing of affected communities.

Lauren graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2008, and today credits her degree for giving her the confidence and credentials to launch her career as a journalist.