Hot winds drive Victoria bushfires

Hot winds drive Victoria bushfires

23 January 2009

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Australia — Several central Victorian communities were last night on bushfire alert after high temperatures, strong storms and winds and high humidity caused a day of wild weather across the Australian state.

Woodend residents were warned their homes could be in danger from a fire in Harpers Road, one kilometre west of the town centre. The Country Fire Authority last night said 366 hectares had been burnt. Kim Paul, from the Woodend BP service station said last night the town itself was not particularly close to the fire.

“I think it’s just far (away) enough that the town won’t have to be evacuated, (just) the houses around.”

Residents in nearby Malmsbury and Taradale gained a slight reprieve last night. A fire at Drummond North was thought to be a direct threat to the towns but the threat eased about 6.30pm. The fire had burnt through 400 hectares. Last night, the Bendigo railway line was closed between Kyneton and Castlemaine and the Old Calder Highway between Malmsbury and Taradale was also closed.

In Ballarat, weeds growing on the dry Lake Wendouree caught fire, with the blaze burning through one square kilometre before being brought under control about 8am.

In Carrum Downs, a fire that reignited after a large fire on Wednesday burnt about two hectares. Police believe the fire was deliberately lit.

One hectare was burnt at both Hallam and Leslie Manor.

Two separate blazes burning close to each other in the South-East Forests National Park at Yambulla, near the NSW border, remained stable. A one-hectare fire at Morris Peak, 11 kilometres north-west of Bullumwaal, was under control last night, but a band of lightning was crossing the Gippsland region and could ignite more fires. At Rainbow, in western Wimmera, a grass fire burnt 49 hectares.

CFA chief officer Russell Rees said dry conditions meant any small fire could quickly turn nasty. “These fires that occurred at Seaford and Langwarrin are classic examples … fires literally over people’s back fence, fires that seemed benign,” he said. “The season is not over; traditionally February is the worst month for Victoria.”

Mr Rees said weather fronts crossing Victoria over the weekend would bring lightning, but also more moisture. Monday and Tuesday are predicted to be the biggest danger for fire.

Meanwhile in Gippsland and the north-east, there was heavy rainfall. Power outages were reported in several areas as storms set in during the day.

And dust storms wreaked havoc across the state, caused by strong winds and increasingly dry conditions. The winds also caused debris to block train lines, causing several cancelled trains in last night’s peak hour.

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