Australia — Victorians have been warned they face the most severe fire threat of the summer in coming days as scorching temperatures and high winds fan blazes across the state.
Fires came within metres of homes in Melbourne’s south and in Malmsbury in central Victoria, while residents in nearby Woodend were under serious threat for several hours last night.
More than 200 firefighters from 54 trucks and four waterbombing aircraft fended off a 400-hectare blaze that threatened to whip into the townships of Malmsbury and Taradale, fanned by a northerly wind change late in the afternoon.
“It burnt through to the Daylesford-Malmsbury Road right up against houses,” Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) incident controller James Dalton said.
“It did hit the edge of Malmsbury township but no houses were lost.
“But we’ve still got strong winds tomorrow and we will be working overnight.”
Mr Dalton said crews hoped to have the fire contained early this morning.
The 1000 or so residents of Malmsbury and Taradale, around 110km north of Melbourne, and the farming communities in between were warned to be prepared for more danger overnight in the changing conditions.
The fire burnt out around 160 hectares of private farming land and around 140 hectares of state forest, while roads and the Melbourne to Bendigo rail line were closed, severely disrupting thousands of peak hour commuters.
The urgent threat to nearby Woodend was downgraded to “high” at around 8pm (AEDT), but residents were also being urged to remin vigilant.
The fire swept to within one kilometre of the western edge of the town of 5000 people, 40km to the south of Malmsbury.
Residents were on high alert as they braced for the northerly wind change and gusts of over 110 km/h last night, but conditions eased.
Close to 200 firefighters from 38 trucks were still battling to contain the fire last night and were expected to be in place for the next couple of days.
Country Fire Authority (CFA) chief officer Russell Rees warned Victorians to expect more danger.
“Do not be complacent. The honeymoon is over, the fire season is here amongst us and we need to work together,” Mr Rees said.
“This last week and a half of hot weather has dried the fuel out completely for much of Victoria. The end result is we get fires and they’re hard to extinguish.
“Saturday and Sunday should be OK, but it’ll be heating up by Monday, I’d say Tuesday’s getting closer to the worry day. Traditionally February is the worst month for Victoria.”
Residents in the Melbourne bayside suburbs of Seaford and Carrum feared for their homes for the second time in three days when hot winds whipped up the remains of a grassfire which burnt in the area on Tuesday.
CFA crews contained the blaze by the afternoon and police are investigating the cause of the fire amid speculation it was deliberately lit.
Fires also broke out in the east of the state in Gippsland near Mallacoota, at Stuart Creek near Bruthen and in the South-East Forests National Park at Yambulla, near the NSW border, but no property was under threat.
Police are also treating a small fire that burnt through noxious weed that has taken over the parched bed of Lake Wendouree in Ballarat as suspicious.
Despite firefighters’ fears and temperatures forecast to reach the high 30s across the state, there are no fire bans in Victoria today.