Australia — Two homes have been lost as soaring temperatures and strongwinds combined to create nightmare bushfire conditions for firefighters acrossVictoria.
As palls of acrid smoke hung over much of the state on its hottest Decemberday in more than half a century, 3,000 firefighters battled blazes which havealready burnt out more than 220,000 hectares of bush.
A shift from the hot northerly winds to cooler southerly breezes predictedfor early evening, it was hoped, would provide some relief in the battle against14 major outbreaks.
Despite the most frightening conditions since the Ash Wednesday fires thatclaimed 75 lives 23 years ago, Victoria has so far been spared the weekend ofhorror it had been warned to expect.
But Police chief commissioner Christine Nixon told journalists the bushfirethreat remained extreme.
“We may lose lives,” she said.
“We will lose more assets but we will have done the best we can toprotect people and this whole environment.”
In addition to fires raging in the state’s north-east and Gippsland regions,fire authorities scrambled as fire broke out on a third front near Camperdown,south-west of Melbourne.
On Sunday morning, residents in settlements across the state’s east fromGermantown to Gaffneys Creek, and from Cheshunt to Castleburn, prepared to facethe flames.
A woman in Waterford, near Dargo in Gippsland, summed up the unspokenfeelings of many as the flames neared her property.
“We’re just waiting. I’m as scared as shit,” she said.
In the North Eastern Alpine region, 131,000 hectares have already been burntout.
Early in the afternoon, a new fire started east of Bright, threateningproperties in Germantown, Freeburgh, Snowy Creek and parts of Mt Beauty.
Fires burning in the Black Range, Mt Typo, Lake William Hovell East and RoseRiver area joined up with residents of Cheshunt and Paradise Falls areas warnedthat spot fires would break out as the fire front advanced towards them.
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) confirmed a holiday home had been lost inRose River as the area came under intense ember attack early in the day.
East of Tolmie, residents between Merrijig and Mirimbah were placed on highalert and warned to expect an ember attack when a fire broke through containmentlines.
And people living in Gaffneys Creek and A1 Mine Settlement were warned fireswere approaching them.
In Gippsland, heavy smoke from the Mt Terrible fire made life difficult forresidents of Erica, Rawson, Walhalla, Noojee and Willow Grove.
Briagolong resident Joyce Baker, 86, said smoke was very thick around theirproperty.
“I have had a gut full, I’ll be glad when it’s over. It’s the sittingand waiting that’s the worst bit,” she said.
By mid-afternoon, the waiting was over for many, as blazes crept closer andfire authorities issued a flurry of warnings of imminent danger.
Erratic winds wrought havoc for firefighters trying to protect propertiesfrom a blaze which broke out near Stonyford, south-west of Melbourne, where onehome was lost.
CFA incident controller Malcolm Fallon said water bombing aircraft and 160firefighters had been deployed to fight the blaze, which quickly ripped through900 hectares.
The fire was contained late in the afternoon, the Department ofSustainability and Environment (DSE) said.
Premier Steve Bracks said all the possible resources were being directed tothe fires.
“I can guarantee all Victorians we have every resource possible to fightthese fires,” he said.
“We are the best prepared we have ever been in this state.
“But we have some of the worst conditions we have ever faced in thisstate as well.”
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Terry Ryan said there was only one way thefires were going to be stopped.
“To put them out it’s going to take rain,” he said.
“There’s a front coming up Thursday, there’s some showers andthunderstorms going to happen with that probably, and that will extend to thenorth-east on Friday.