Don’t underestimate fire threat: CFA chief

Don’t underestimate fire threat: CFA chief

15 December 2009

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Australia — Victorians have been warned not to underestimate tomorrow’s fire danger, with extreme conditions forecast across the Wimmera and Western districts of the state.

Temperatures in the high 30s and north-westerly winds are expected to create dangerous fire conditions across the entire state, with a severe threat warned for Central, North Central and Mallee regions.

Much of the remainder of the state remains under high or very high threat.

None of the regions are expected to be rated “code red” or “catastrophic,” which under the new system of fire warnings is the highest level of threat, but state fire controller Russell Rees said people should not lapse into a false sense of security.

“We are pleading with the community, do not ignore the fact that it is only extreme, extreme is still a bad fire day,” he said.

“It is not yet ‘code red’ weather, but we need to realise that an extreme day still requires people to put in place their plans.”

Mr Rees said those people living in regions facing extreme fire danger should consider leaving home tonight or first thing tomorrow morning.

Neil Beer knows well the stress that comes with living in a fireprone area.

Three major fires have threatened his home town of Yea in the past four years, two on Black Saturday.

Tomorrow, when the fire danger townfolk in the North Central district will be on the alert.

But Mr Beer, a veteran CFA volunteer of 32 years, said there was nothing like experience to teach a town how to respond.

Within minutes of a crop fire starting yesterday afternoon, four tankers were on site. Within two hours, the small fire was under control.

“I’ve got an extremely experienced crew,” the Yea group officer said. “We’re very prepared.”

Mr Beer will have 20 to 25 crew and five trucks on standby tomorrow and another three people for the fire command car.

Four additional trucks are ready if a fire does develop, while neighbouring stations can be called if needed.

Despite the state’s firefighting arsenal getting a boost yesterday, thanks to the arrival of a Californian air tanker capable of soaking a 1.2-kilometre bushfire in one hit, Mr Rees, chief of the Country Fire Authority, warned that tomorrow would be “a rough and nasty day”.

He said the recent rain and mild weather would offer little protection and he urged against complacency.

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Dean Stewart said tomorrow’s forecast of 39 degrees for Melbourne and 41 degrees in northern parts of the state such as Mildura and Swan Hill could make it the hottest day since Black Saturday.

The forecast follows the warmest November on record. The average temperature for the month was 27.1 degrees, beating the previous record of 25.5 degrees set in 1862.

“We had 10 days above 30 degrees in November,” he said.

So far, December is close to average, at 24 degrees.

“We’re close to average for this time in December—it’s just that it feels a bit cooler after November,” he said.

Mr Stewart said the current high pressure system would move out over the Tasman today and a front from the west would bring warm dry air tomorrow.

But it will be short lived, with thunderstorms due to pass through Melbourne tomorrow evening and through northern parts of the state on Thursday.

“There could be 10 to 20 millimetres throughout the Melbourne area,” he said.

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