Victoria fire crews still on alert

Victoria fire crews still on alert

1 February 2009

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Australia — Victoria’s record-breaking heatwave has eased for some, but the bushfire threat remains critical across the state even though a major blaze in the state’s east has been contained.

Victorian Premier John Brumby and Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin on Sunday appealed for vigilance as the state’s north again sweltered in 40 degree plus temperatures.

“This is not over yet,” Mr Brumby told reporters at the firefighters’ staging area in the Gippsland town of Churchill.

“This is still going to be a tough period and we’re still going to have to work together to get through it.”

Mr Brumby said the Delburn blaze which has razed more than 6,000 acres near the townships of Boolarra, Yinnar and Mirboo North in East Gippsland was now largely contained, while another outbreak sparked by lighting near Licola was still cause for concern.

Fire authorities confirmed that the Delburn fire claimed 29 houses, 64 sheds, five cars, a truck and a piggery.

“There are obviously houses lost…so our hearts go out to those who have lost their homes,” Mr Brumby said.

The fires are believed to have been deliberately lit and have been burning out of control since Thursday.

Milder weather conditions on Saturday and Sunday allowed more than 500 firefighters to build containment lines around the blaze.

Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Department of Sustainability and Environment firefighters travelled from around the state, including Geelong and Shepparton, to battle the blaze.

Mr Esplin said lives may have been lost if the community had not been well informed.

“A number of people chose to depart their properties because they weren’t defensible and we may well have lost lives if people had not been part of that community education process,” he said.

But he said the different agencies involved in fighting the fire would need to investigate why so many properties had been lost.

Mr Esplin emphasised while the threat may have passed in the Latrobe Valley, the Licola fire was still a concern as more lightning strikes had been forecast for later on Sunday.

“There’s no room for complacency, it’s important that we keep focused on the fire effort and keep focused on the fact that now the whole of the state will be very, very dry,” he said.

“Our problem is making sure we keep our guard, keep fighting the fires, and prepare for what is going to be a long, hot remainder of the summer.

Incident controller Alistair Drayton, from the CFA, said the threat to a major transmission line supplying electricity to Melbourne had passed.

There had been concerns that heavy smoke could cause the power lines to short out, while containment lines have been built to protect power stations and the Latrobe Valley open cut coal mine from the Gippsland fires.

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