Fear in the wind: heat taunts bush

Fear in the wind: heat taunts bush

11 December 2006

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia — A Wall of fire 20 metres high came within 50 metres of homes inthe King Valley, north-east Victoria, last night as a strong southerly forcedflames back towards the hamlets of Whitfield and Cheshunt.

People in Upper King River Road, in South Cheshunt, could only watch asflames lit up the hills on both sides of the valley.

The area was heavily back-burnt during the afternoon while a favourable lightnortherly wind helped the containment. But when the wind changed direction andstrengthened at nightfall, the flames turned and raced across the hills,lighting the forests and the night sky orange.

As wailing sirens and flickering lights emerged out of the dark haze, thefire came closest to Sandro Tiso’s home.

Flames came right up to the edge of a bulldozed containment line at the backof his vineyard, as about a dozen fire crews tried to hold the raging blazeback. Mr Tiso’s house stood 50 metres away.

As Mr Tiso fought the fire, his neighbour Frank Siccone said he was worriedabout Mr Tiso’s property and the potential for the fire to spread to the rest ofthe valley. “The wind has brought it right to the edge of the containmentline,” he said.

The strong northerly winds forecast for the north-east did not arrive,allowing firefighters to strengthen breaks against the largest fire in the state,in the Alpine National Park, south-east of Wangaratta, as the front pushed tothe south and west.

The southerly change that hit Melbourne yesterday, bringing the temperaturedown by 17 degrees, was expected to hit the King Valley about 3am today, andcould push flames back towards homes.

As well, the forecast last night was for thunderstorms with possiblelightning strikes, which could start new fires in forest still untouched.

By the middle of the afternoon a giant cloud hovered over the King Valley, asthe fire front itself burned unchecked in the Alpine National Park.

Also yesterday, a new fire broke out east of Bright. Fanned by winds, theblaze travelled south and east, scorching about 600 hectares of bushland southof Mount Beauty.

No properties were under immediate threat, but bulldozers were unable to getin front of the fire to push through containment lines because of the terrain.

The townships of Freeburg and Germantown and homes on the Snowy Creek Roadwere on high alert, but no homes were directly threatened.

Further south, however, the towns of Gaffneys Creek and the A1 MineSettlement, south of Mansfield, remain in the direct line of another fire.

Those towns remain on high alert and at risk of ember attack from theapproaching fire front. But the wind change should see the threat to those townsease.

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