Rain and cool moist winds halt bushfire fury

Rain and cool moist winds halt bushfire fury

24 December 2006

published by www.theaustralian.news.com.au


Australia — Elated residents isolated in bushfire danger zones across the state looked to the heavens as rain pelted the flames licking the edges of their communities.

Rain and cool, moist winds halted the front of the inferno that was metres from the outskirts of several towns.

Residents of Walhalla, Mt Buller and Sawmill Settlement believed they faced losing their homes and possibly lives before the rains came.

The dramatic weather reprieve is tipped to hold for up to six days.

It means thousands of volunteer firefighters can return home to their families for Christmas.

Estimates late yesterday put the destruction so far at 871,000ha and 951 head of livestock — alpacas, cattle and sheep.

When the rains came, blazes were bearing down on Mt Buller, Sawmill Settlement, Howqua Hills, Walhalla, Tobacco Flat and Sheepyard Flat.

Walhalla General Store owner Rhonda Aquilina, 57, was jubilant, but exhausted.

“It was not looking good. The fire was right on the edge of town,” she said. “The rain brought hope and relief.

“We are like zombies and we are very, very emotional.”

Mt Buller Chalet manager Eric Siewert was thrilled.

“On Friday it was on our back doorstep, more or less, but 9.5mm of rain has settled it right down,” Mr Siewert said. “Someone has looked up in the sky and given us a break for Christmas.”

The fire was 500m from Mark Brandl’s Sawmill Settlement home when the rain came down.

Mr Brandl, 34, said it was “absolutely wonderful”.

“We can finally get a bit of sleep,” he said.

Neighbour Derek Wigley, 48, said the rain “was magic”, but warned that it gave only temporary respite.

“No one is going to slip into the mindset of thinking that it is over,” he said.

Department of Sustainability and Environment duty officer Richard Alder said the rain would help authorities prepare for the long fight ahead extinguishing the blaze.

“It has provided a window of opportunity for the control and containment work we need to do,” Mr Alder said.

But the cooler conditions hampered efforts to burn new containment lines and mushy ground impeded heavy earth-moving equipment, he said.

Mr Alder said there was still fire near Mt Buller, Walhalla, Sawmill Settlement and near remote Seldom Seen.

Dargo Hotel publican Dave Austin said about 7mm fell on the town overnight on Friday. He believed the worst of the fire danger was over after weeks living under threat.

But CFA state duty officer Gary Weir warned the bushfires would return.

“There is still a chance, as it dries out, that those areas we can’t get at could cause embers to be blown and we could have another finger of fire coming out,” he said.


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