Fire message ‘misleading’

VicRoads has issued a public apology after warning drivers to “avoid unnecessary travel to regional Victoria” on Friday due to forecast high temperatures and the fire risk.

Member for Eastern Victoria Danny O’Brien hit out at the road authority on Monday, labelling the blanket alert on its website over-the-top and detrimental to regional tourism.

“Of course we have to be careful on extreme fire days, but it does not help to have a government agency advising against travel to all of regional Victoria, which is a pretty broad description to use in the circumstances,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Of most concern is that it is the peak holiday season for much of regional Victoria, including here in Gippsland, and the last thing we need is for tourists to be told not to come.

“The reality is that fire can strike anywhere at any time and we have seen in the past that significant fires have hit Melbourne’s outer suburbs and regional interface as bad or worse than anywhere in the country.”

He said the issue was brought to his attention by Gippsland tourism operators. Walhalla and Mountain Rivers Tourism Association president Michael Leaney said the message was widely disseminated after being shared on Facebook.

He said VicRoads left the alert on its website 15 hours after the total fire ban had been lifted from the state.

“It is an uphill battle to get Melburnians beyond the Melways map, so any messaging to tell you not to do it (makes it harder),” Mr Leaney said.

“At least VicRoads has admitted they’ve done the wrong thing.”

In a post to its Facebook page on Tuesday, VicRoads apologised for the “misleading and confusing information distributed via various channels over the weekend”, following feedback from members of the public and the tourism industry.

“The directive to avoid travelling was initiated by the CFA and Victoria Police, but was specific only to the South Western Region of the state”, the VicRoads post read.

“This directive did not apply to the rest of regional Victoria, as was incorrectly stated in our communications”.