Fires erupt as states bake

Fires erupt as states bake

9 November 2009

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Australia –Bushfires have broken out in eastern Victoria as a spring heatwave sends temperatures soaring across southeast Australia.

 A 700ha blaze broke out near Mallacoota in East Gippsland on Saturday, and a fire stretching across 50ha has been burning for several days southeast of Orbost.

Temperatures in South Australia are expected to reach the mid to high 30s right through the forecast period to Saturday, while Victoria is also expecting temperatures over 30C this week.

Melbourne residents took to the beaches yesterday as temperatures hit 34C. Swimmers were out in force at beaches around Port Phillip Bay. The heat didn’t deter a strong turnout for the marathon at Marysville, one of the towns worst affected in the Black Saturday bushfires.

The brainchild of local doctor Lachlan Fraser, the run was aimed at attracting people back to the mountain village and helping revive its economy and spirits.

Department of Sustainability and Environment state duty officer Peter Billing said the two fires burning yesterday were in national park and were not threatening properties. He said firefighters were expected to bring the blazes under control relatively quickly. However, he said the current heatwave — the first of the season — would “rapidly change the bushfire situation”.

“The rain that we had in September and October is rapidly drying out and will do so over the next fortnight,” Mr Billing said.

As the worst of the fire season approaches, a political firestorm has broken out, with the opposition and the firefighters’ union criticising the government over its handling of moves to hire a large, jet-powered fire-bomber.

The Brumby government on Saturday announced it would lease the jet, possibly a modified 747 or DC-10, capable of dousing a 1km stretch of fire.

The jet will be able to carry up to 70,000 litres of water or fire retardant — 10 times the amount carried by the Elvis water-bombing helicopter.

United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall said the government rejected fire services’ calls to have the aircraft last season — a decision he says cost lives. “If the state government had funded the aircraft that was available and actually requested by the fire services last year in the lead-up to the bushfire season, perhaps we wouldn’t have seen as much loss of property, and indeed, potentially saved some lives,” he said.

The opposition welcomed the move to lease the bomber but said it had been left too late to get into the tender process for the aircraft.

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