Towns at fire risk

Towns at fire risk

10 December 2006

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Australia — Firefigthers fear bushfires could sweep through towns inVictoria’s highlands today as winds strengthen ahead of a cool change.

Bush brigades are working frantically to bolster containment lines around thestate’s worst fires before the blustery conditions strike.

Milder than expected conditions yesterday eased the threat in the state’snortheast and Gippsland, where 24 fires were burning out of control last night.

Almost 4000 firefighters from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, theAustralian Capital Territory and New Zealand were tackling the blazes, backed byarmy personnel.

Fires so far have consumed almost 180,000ha of bush.

Victoria’s Department of Environment says yesterday’s reprieve would beshort-lived.

“The whole system has slowed down over the past 24 hours, but we’reexpecting it to hit tomorrow and it will be severe,” spokesman Stuart Ordsaid last night.

“The fire will move very quickly and the intensity will be veryhot.”

Burning embers, ash, twigs and branches were expected to carry the fire fromthe highlands south to the Gippsland plains, where drought-affected pasturecould easily carry it down to the coast, Mr Ord said.

“There is no doubt the fire will hit settlements tomorrow, the questionis which ones,” he said.

Thick smoke cloaked eastern Victoria yesterday, prompting a rush of calls tothe triple-0 emergency line.

It also grounded firefighting aircraft, preventing them from attacking thefires and helping to determine where they were moving.

Flights into and out of Melbourne Airport were delayed as smoke impacted onvisibility.

Country Fire Authority deputy chief officer Graham Fountain said firefightersspent yesterday consolidating containment lines and helping prepare residents intowns directly under threat.

Mr Fountain said that even if the fires were contained, it would take monthsto fully put them out.

“These fires will require patrolling for the remainder of the seasonbecause the only thing that’s going to extinguish these totally is a damn gooddownpour of rain, and that’s not forecast and not likely,” he said.

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