Erratic winds whip up bushfires in three states

Erratic winds whip up bushfires in three states

14 January 2008

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Australia — Unpredictable gusty winds were fuelling a string of wildfires in three states yesterday with firefighters in Tasmania defending homes against an onslaught of blazes across a number of fronts.

After three major bushfires near Hobart were contained yesterday, another new outbreak in the state’s northeast was causing headaches last night.

“It is burning in forest country but it is out of control and looking grim at this stage,” Tasmania Fire Service spokesman Shane Batt said. “There are no reports of houses lost.”

Police were forced to close the Tasman Highway as the flames burntout of control between Goshen and St Helens, near Tasmania’s northeast tip.

While temperatures in Tasmania and Victoria had subsided considerably since the heatwave conditions last week, firefighters were still battling winds gusting up to 90km/h, and were racing to contain the blazes ahead of the return of hotter conditions later in the week.

Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment duty officer Alen Slijepcevic said 10 fires were still burning in the state, mostly in bushland.

Most were sparked by lightning on Friday when the cool change brought an end to the searing heat.

A cluster of five bushfires near the Cann River, in Victoria’s far southeast, was causing most concern, Mr Slijepcevic said.

Four aircraft and 80 firefighters were battling the blazes.

Despite the milder conditions, authorities were determined to douse the flames with temperatures expected to rise again tomorrow.

More than 400 firefighters and 19 aircraft were battling the blazes in Victoria yesterday, using bulldozing equipment and hand tools to build containment lines.

“We’re hoping to contain all of them (by) tomorrow because the weather worsens on Tuesday,” said Mr Slijepcevic.

In Western Australia, bushfires in an environmentally sensitive area of the state’s southwest have been allowed to burn to avoid environmental problems.

A Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman said it was expected that more than 50,000ha of parkland would be burnt before the fire was contained and the Mt Barren fire would probably burn out 4500ha before it was controlled.

“The park is internationally renowned for its high biodiversity values, with more than 1800 native plant species as well as populations of rare native animals such as ground parrots and dibblers,” DEC state duty fire officer Roger Armstrong said.

“Allowing the fire to burn out to breaks will have less impact on those values than an aggressive approach using machines to cut breaks that could result in greater environmental problems such as the transport of Phytophtora dieback or soil erosion in the event of summer storms.”

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