Victoria, Australia — More than 800 firefighters will spend Christmas at home as cooler conditions give crews working in Victoria’s fire affected areas a welcome rest.
Cooler weather and rain overnight has kept fire activity at a low and similar conditions are forecast to continue for the next week, giving fire crews a chance to relax their efforts.
But authorities have warned against complacency, saying residents should prepare now for when dry conditions return, with much work still to do.
Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) state duty officer Richard Alder said the conditions have provided fire crews with a welcome, but temporary, respite.
“Overall it’s positive and probably fair to say there’s no community under direct threat at the moment,” Mr Alder said.
“The rain in the fire area has been patchy but been enough to reduce the immediate threat, at least for the next day or so.”
No urgent threat messages have been issued, but the Gippsland town of Woods Point is on alert with flames 200 metres from its doorstep.
Mr Alder said even though the fire was close and surrounding the town, there was low risk because the conditions were halting its spread.
“It’s not posing any immediate threat to the town, providing an opportunity to control and prevention work – I think everyone will be breathing easier,” he said.
Residents in the Gippsland township of Walhalla also needed to remain wary with fire only kilometres from the town.
But the fire was not spreading and mild weather has allowed crews to do some preparation work. “It just means we have to keep people there and stay vigilant,” Mr Alder said.
“I think residents will be able to relax a bit for Christmas.”
Today, moderate south-west winds are expected and tonight there is the possibility of showers. While the rain is welcome, it could also pose problems by hampering backburning and efforts to bolster control lines, he said.
Mr Alder said the rain and cooler conditions were expected to last at least five to seven days, but warned there was still a lot of work to be done.
“(Rain) could be a mixed blessing because we still have a lot of uncontrolled fire edge, particularly on the eastern side,” Mr Alder said.
“This is still a big fire and there’s still a lot of uncontrolled edges – we’ll need to continue for weeks, at least.”
A CFA spokesman said people should be preparing now for the return of dry conditions.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in community meetings advising of what the risks are if the fires come out,” the spokesman said on ABC radio.
“It’s early summer, it’s only the first month of summer, so there’s a lot of time still to come even up to mid-April, before the risks start to abate.”
Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said almost all fire volunteers have been able to get home to have a break for Christmas, but they would be called on soon.
“They’re going to be needed again and their sense of spirit is something that really helps our community just so much through what is a very difficult period, when they don’t expect anything in reward,” Mr Cameron said on ABC radio.
Crews are using the cool weather as an opportunity to review their fire-fighting strategy.
About 800 CFA and DSE staff are rostered on tomorrow but while some would get a well-earned rest, they would still be “ready to roll”.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast snowfall for Victoria’s higher peaks tomorrow, delivering a timely white Christmas.
The bushfires have so far burnt more than 871,000 hectares of bush, destroyed more than 30 homes and resulted in one death.