Australia — Fire authorities are stretched to their limit fighting dozens of fires across Victoria and New South Wales, which have destroyed dozens of homes.
A change in wind direction is making life extremely difficult for firefighters in Victoria, as they race to limit the number of houses that are lost.
A Victorian man has been severely burnt and a man has been arrested suspected of starting a serious fire in New South Wales.
Victoria’s Premier John Brumby said everyone in the state was grateful for the actions of anyone who had helped fight the fires.
“Today Victoria has experienced the worst fire conditions in history, even worse than Ash Wednesday of 1983,” Mr Brumby said in a statement.
He said firefighters had done an amazing job, and took the opportunity to thank authorities who had saved his parents’ farm.
Fire authorities say new blazes are putting “enormous pressure” on their resources, with all available trucks already committed to fighting bushfire that have been burning through the day.
Russell Rees, chief fire officer with the CFA, says fires can be overwhelming and extremely dangerous at night.
“There will be more losses over the next day and a half, but if we pull together with the emergency services… I hope and pray that we can survive these conditions without any life lost,” he told ABC Local Radio.
Temperatures have started to drop by 15 degrees Celsius across Victoria, but there will be little relief with high winds expected to change direction and force fires onto new fronts.
The CFA’s deputy chief fire officer, Greg Esnouf, says fire crews are preparing for the threat posed by the wind change.
“When the fires run from a north-west to a south-east direction, and then all of a sudden when the wind changes to the south-west, the whole flank just opens up,” he said.
The CFA says some of its tankers have been destroyed.
Central Victoria is bearing the brunt of the inferno, with nine major fire fronts, a number of smaller blazes threatening properties, and 20,000 homes without power.
The situation could escalate even further if a wind change forces a fire near Churchill towards the Loy Yang power station and surrounding coal mines near Traralgon.
A man has been taken to Victoria’s Hamilton hospital with burns to 50 per cent of his body after attempting to move stock from a fire while wearing just shorts and thongs.
For information on the Victorian fires call the Country Fire Authority’s information line on 1800 240 667.
There are 89 firefighters at a blaze which has destroyed dozens of homes and buildings and is threatening others at Wandong, Heathcote and Upper Plenty north of Melbourne.
The fire, which has burnt through 4,000 hectares, started east of Kilmore is moving in a southerly direction between Kilmore East and Whittlesea.
It is spotting into the Healesville, Yarra Glen and Kinglake areas and a relief centre has been established at the multi-purpose centre in Bentinck Street in Wallan.
ABC Local Radio received a phone call from Peter Mitchell in Kinglake north of Melbourne, who said the entire town was engulfed in flames.
His situation showed how stretched the CFA’s resources were, with no fire trucks present after they had been called to the dozens of fires elsewhere in the state. Mr Mitchell said there was one water tanker in the town.
“There’s going to be a massive loss of houses,” he said.
The fire at Horsham, in western Victoria, has crossed the Western Highway, south-east of Horsham and is now moving in a westerly direction.
The 5,700-hectare fire is now expected to threaten the communities of Drung South, Longerenong, Dooen and Riverside.
It has already destroyed at least three houses, a fire truck and the Horsham Golf Club. An emergency centre has been set up in the Town Hall.
But the deputy incident controller, Graham Parkes, says crews are making good progress on the fire.
“I’m saying that very cautiously because we’ve got some really tough weather conditions out there, and I’m not wanting to give the impression that we’ve got this contained yet,” he told the ABC.
The ABC’s Lisa Maksimovic flew over a blaze in Bunyip State Park, east of Melbourne, in a helicopter earlier this afternoon.
She said the fire – described by fire authorities as “right out of control” – had dropped embers on people’s houses surrounding the fire.
She said there were serious concerns among fire authorities that a wind change could push the fire onto a 20-kilometre front.
ABC Local Radio spoke to a man who watched the fire in Churchill develop.
“I can actually see flames flaring up on the eastern side coming back down the Loy Yang side,” he said.
“It was amazing how quickly it ran over the hills. It started around 1:30pm or 2:00pm and it was up and gone over the hills that quick.”
About 74 firefighters are battling a grassfire in Narre Warren North. The blaze is in the Crawley Road area and began around 3:30pm (AEDT).
A number of communities are under threat from two fires burning in the Gippsland region.
The fire burning on the eastern fringe of the Strzelecki Ranges in Gippsland is making its way towards the township of Yarram. The communities of Willung, Willung South, Stradbroke, Giffard West, Darriman and Gormadale may experience falling embers.
Emergency relief centres have been set up in Yarram, Traralgon and Sale, and the South Gippsland highway has been closed at Yarram, Welshpool and Longford.
The highway is already cut at Warragul. Residents of Warragul are being warned their homes could soon be under threat.
Another fire East of Walhalla is burning in a south-easterly direction – residents in Toongabbie, Glengarry, and Cowwar may be affected by embers.
The fire in the Delburn complex near Boolarra has also flared up, and the township of Driffield is on alert.
A fire has also crossed electricity transmission lines near Hazlewood Power Station in the Latrobe Valley.
People in the Gippsland area are advised that the ABC’s FM transmitter is under threat from the fire, so the 828 AM frequency is the best port of call for bushfire updates.
Upper Ferntree Gully residents are advised that a small fire no longer poses an immediate threat.
The forecast wind change is expected to turn the fire that started at Redesdale, south-east of Bendigo, towards more homes.
The head of the fire is currently in the Sidonia area, and Barfold, Langley, Metcalfe East, Pastoria and areas east of Kyneton are being threatened.
Residents of Redesdale, Glenhope, Baynton, Baynton East, Heathcote, Tooboroc, Pyalong are being warned to prepare for the wind change.
Spot fires are breaking out ahead of a fire at Murrindindi in the Mount Despair State Forest. The community of Narbethong is also being told to watch for embers.
And a new fire has started East of the township of Walhalla, near the Thompson Dam. The communities of Walhalla, Rawson and Erica have been put on alert.
CFA officials say they are aware of a fire in the Healesville area.
A man has been arrested for allegedly starting a bushfire at Peats Ridge on the New South Wales Central Coast.
Police say the 31-year-old was arrested on the Pacific Highway and was taken to Gosford Police Station.
Rural Fire Service spokeswoman Rebel Talbert says some of the fires in Peats Ridge are threatening homes and there is also a risk from falling embers.
“We’re actually asking residents at this stage to stay with their properties and take direction from firefighters,” she said.
Ms Talbert says they are are asking residents of Nardoo Road in Peats Ridge to assist firefighters.
Ms Talbert says the hot and windy conditions have seen many of the 40 fires that started today spread rapidly.
Authorities are carefully monitoring fires at Muswellbrook, Tumut, the Bega Valley, Wybong in the Hunter Valley and Wollemi National Park in the Singleton area.
Firefighters have had to retreat from the fire in the Wollemi National Park in the state’s Hunter region because of extreme temperatures but crews are still monitoring the situation.
The Rural Fire Service says three fires which began in the park this morning have joined up, burning about 1,000 hectares of bushland, but it is not threatening any properties.
The RFS is currently fighting more than 40 fires across the state.
It says a bushfire in the Bega Valley in the state’s far south has crossed containment lines. The blaze has burnt over 1,000 hectares since it began about a week ago at Jingera Rock.
While it is not currently threatening any properties residents from nearby villages including Towamba, Wyndham and Burragate have been asked to stay prepared.
A total fire ban is in place in Sydney and most of NSW over the weekend.
Saturday’s hot conditions will continue on Sunday with a late southerly change expected on Sunday afternoon.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service information hotline is 1800 679 737.