EVEN as fire crews continued to battle the out-of-control Aberfeldy-Donnellys fire at the weekend, they were also preparing for the “spike days” of Thursday and Friday when temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s.
Speaking to The Express, Heyfield Incident Control Centre Country Fire Authority spokesperson Gerard Scholten said authorities were concerned about an expected wind change later on in the week.
“Going forward, we’re concerned with the temperatures, which are going to stay relatively warm throughout the week, and the northerly winds,” Mr Scholten said.
“We’re afraid the fire will turn south under that wind and burn towards some communities like Newry and Heyfield, and back towards Coongulla, Maffra West, Boisdale, Valencia Creek and even as far south as Maffra; there’s a fair lot of grass loads in that area.”
Confirming as at Sunday, 57,000 hectares had been burnt with 21 homes lost and one fatality in Seaton, Mr Scholten said the main fire was still burning north of the Baw Baw National Park.
“To put it into perspective, if we overlaid this area over Melbourne, it would cover Melbourne Airport to Clayton,” he said.
Mr Scholten said the number of fire crews fluctuated between 50 to 70, but all hands were expected back on deck on Thursday.
“We are working to manage firefighter fatigue now,” he said.
With cooler and milder temperatures expected early in the week, the CFA spokesperson said fire crews’ efforts were now with backburning.
“We have burnt 180 hectares today between Seaton, Heyfield and Glenmaggie to lessen the threat to the local community should the fire spark up again,” he said.
He said Seaton, Glenmaggie township and Glenmaggie point residents had been allowed to return home; while he said Licola was not under immediate threat, Mr Scholten advised roads heading into the town were still unsafe.
“The area is very heavily wooded and roads are very windy; there are still trees smouldering and falling on to the roads,” he said.
Mr Scholten praised the majority of residents for heeding warnings and messages and for being well prepared.
“This part of Victoria is well used to bushfires; I can say (the preparedness) has minimised losses, and while we have had one very tragic fatality, we are pleased people have prepared themselves and their homes,” he said.
He reminded people despite the fires, other areas in Gippsland were still open for business.
He urged those who have been affected by the fires to register with the Red Cross or visit relief centres.
“From a CFA perspective, we want to thank the volunteers, the self employed, and employers who have let their employees help us fight fires,” he said.
Visiting the DSE headquarters in Heyfield on Friday, Premier Ted Baillieu paid homage to the many volunteers that had been involved both fighting the fire, and at relief centres in Sale and Traralgon.
“This is a big fire that has grown quickly, and is a fire with a long way to go,” Mr Baillieu said.
“It started at Aberfeldy and it quickly spread to 45,000 hectares in what is a very fast and large fire.
“Volunteers will be doing all they can.
“The wind change has turned the fire into one rolling sausage and forest could potentially burn for some time.”
Mr Baillieu said it was important for people to heed emergency warnings, and consider leaving as soon as possible.
“There are a number of sources of information,” he said.
“There is the (Fire Ready) app, bushfire emergency line and also radio, radio has been doing a fantastic job.”
Mr Baillieu said it was important affected property owners were aware of relief grants available.
Meanwhile, Victoria Police is also investigating property damage as a result of the fires.
Investigators are also appealing for public assistance from campers in the Donnelly Creek Road area on Thursday morning from 9am who may have witnessed anything suspicious in the lead up to the Aberfeldy fire.
Police are particularly interested in photographs or videos which may have been taken in the area while people were evacuating.
Any local residents or anyone else who was in the area at the time when the fire is believed to have started at around 11.30am and evacuated are also urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit www.crimestoppers.com.au