Australia — Rain and thunderstorms are predicted over Victoria’s central Gippsland region today, where fires have destroyed 29 homes and 80 sheds since last Thursday.
Police are continuing the hunt for the arsonist responsible for the fires that have burnt 6,500 hectares of bush, farmland and timber plantations around Boolarra, and are appealing for help from the public.
Weather forecasts for the next few days include temperatures into the low 30s and easterly winds, providing relief for the fire-ravaged district.
People from the hardest hit areas of Boolarra and Darlimurla are starting to move back into the area and start the massive clean-up effort.
Victorian Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin is warning people not to be complacent after a relatively quiet day of bushfires yesterday.
He toured the Boolarra and Mirboo North area at the weekend and saw some of the homes destroyed by fire.
The toll is the biggest number of houses lost in recent years, more than Alpine fires in 2003 or the Coopers Creek fires two years ago, and the DSE and CFA will hold a review into the blaze.
‘Fight or flee’
Mr Esplin says the public has heeded the message to stay with their homes if they are prepared, or leave if they are not.
“The message of ‘leave early in the day or stay and defend’ has been listened to,” he said.
“A number of people chose to depart their properties because they weren’t defensible.
“We may well have lost lives if people had not been part of that community education process and had had the opportunity to make sensible decisions that looked at the risk that their properties were exposed to.”
He says the fires at Boolarra were indiscriminate, destroying some homes while others nearby remain untouched.
“There is a tremendous amount of work done by the community, but when you look at the houses that were lost, fire is very strange in the ones it picks to burn [and] the ones that weren’t burnt,” he said.
“Looking at it some of those houses just wouldn’t have been able to be saved, given the heat of the fire that roared through the area over the last few days.”
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) and the Department of Sustainability and Environment say the weather conditions have allowed them to scale down resources.
But work is continuing today to strengthen control lines, particularly near Mirboo North.
Firefighters are also working on a 130-hectare bushfire at Target Creek, north of Licola, which was reportedly started by a lightning strike.
The CFA says the fire activity has decreased overnight because of the cooler conditions.