Australia — Firefighters are back-burning the biggest single land area since the Victorian bushfires began, as warmer weather threatens flare-ups across the state’s north-east this weekend.
The Department of Sustainability and Environment said up to 100,000 hectares about half the size of Port Phillip Bay would be burnt off across the state, including areas around Mount Buffalo and Mount Buller and large parts of Gippsland.
“Wet conditions over the past few days have forced us to postpone a lot of planned back-burns, but the forest is drying out again and thanks to the cooler weather we have a window of opportunity for significant back-burning,” department chief officer Ewan Waller said.
The massive back-burning effort was needed to burn out forest between control lines and the main fire and would help to stop the fire when hotter and drier conditions returned.
“This also helps keep nearby communities, their homes and property safe,” Mr Waller said.
The Environment Protection Authority also warned Melburnians to expect “periods of smoke haze” to affect their New Year’s weekend.
“As long as the fires are burning and the winds are blowing towards Melbourne, the city can expect smoke and reduced air quality,” EPA director Stuart McConnell said.
The EPA recorded “very poor air quality” over a number of monitoring stations across much of Melbourne yesterday.
Three fires were blazing across the state’s eastern half last night, covering an area greater than 873,000 hectares. The biggest remains in the huge areas of bush within the Great Dividing Range. Weather forecasts for the weekend were still unclear.
“If it is hot and dry for a few days that’s always a bad thing,” the DSE spokesman said.
“Obviously a hot northerly or just significant sustained dry weather will dry up all the fuel again and then we’re in trouble.”
The Country Fire Authority also reported “a number of close calls between emergency vehicles and trail bikes” after several people failed to adhere to roadblocks and safety signs.
“We are appealing to people to take notice of them and not to put themselves and other road users at risk,” the CFA said.
Meanwhile, the State Government yesterday pledged $300,000 to six councils across fire-ravaged communities in Victoria’s north-east.
Treasurer John Brumby said local authorities in East Gippsland, Mansfield, Latrobe, Wellington, Wangaratta and Alpine will each get $50,000 for bushfire recovery.
A further $900,000 was committed to community infrastructure in the Gippsland and Latrobe regions.
“These projects will make a big difference in local communities.
“You’ve got to understand with the smaller towns that have been ravaged by water shortages, drought, bushfire, all those things, these projects make a difference.”
“Doing up the old community hall makes a difference, sprucing up the townscapes makes a difference, working on some of the other community infrastructure boosts morale and gives them more hope in the medium term,” the Treasurer said.