Goongerah and Martins Creek residents urged again to leave as bushfires sweep through the area

Goongerah and Martins Creek residents urged again to leave as bushfires sweep through the area

08 February 2014

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Australia — RESIDENTS in several small towns in Gippsland are in danger as out-of-control bushfires sweep towards them.

Fire authorities issued an emergency warning just after 6pm for anyone who had ignored previous messages to evacuate and chose to remain in Goongerah and Martins Creek.

“You are now in danger, act now to protect yourself,” the emergency alert said, with the fires moving in a south-easterly direction.

“Leaving now is the safest option. If you have chosen to stay then you need to be prepared to actively defend your property any time in the next 24 hours.”

A relief centre has been set up at Orbost Secondary College’s assembly hall on Arnold St.

Earlier an evacuation warning for residents living close to a fire burning out of control in Victoria’s east has been expanded to the Bonang and Cabanandra areas.

Fire authorities warn Goongerah will likely be hit by fire within 24-hours and emergency services crews may not be able to help residents across the area if they remain in their homes.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said East Gippsland crews were facing a very difficult task.

“There has been extensive fire operations in the Goongerah area.

“It has been a prolonged period of heat and it has not finished and it won’t finish.”

He said the community was urged to evacuate now in the daylight hours as high temperatures overnight meant the fire would still be intense.

Emergency services are also doorknocking homes in Moe South, Hernes Oak and Coalville in the state’s east as fire conditions worsen.

Easterly winds are expected to push a large grassfire towards those towns overnight, with a watch and act warning issued for residents to leave now before fire activity increases.

Forecasted thunderstorms are also concerning fire authorities as the wild weather could exacerbate the out-of-control blaze.

Last Sunday Goongerah residents were also warned the fire could impact the town, which is north of Orbost.

Extra firefighting aircraft are ready to fly this weekend as Victoria braces for blistering temperatures followed by strong winds on Sunday.

Melbourne is expecting a top of 40 degrees today, while other parts of the state could see temperatures soar into the low 40s, before a windy change on Saturday night.

Emergency services authorities are warning Victorians to prepare fire plans, ensure they keep hydrated, and to look out for vulnerable people.

Around 1290 fire stations are on high alert this weekend.

Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells said there were 250 specialist police across the state on high alert for arsonists.

“If you see something and it doesn’t look right, report it.”

Mr Wells said the legacy of Black Saturday won’t be forgot by Victorians, as the state marks the fifth anniversary of the devastating fires.

“We must ensure that the lessons learnt from Black Saturday are implemented to make sure that Victorians are safe during an emergency,” he told reporters at the State Control Centre.

“There is nothing more important than the preservation of life.”

Mr Lapsley said there would be 54 aircraft operating on the weekend if needed – 12 more than usual – and that this would be supplemented by 26 aircraft from NSW.

“We are at our highest level of preparedness, we are ready to go,” he said.

The Fires Services Commissioner urged Victorians to assess their own personal responsibility.

“We rely heavily on every Victorian to have a plan. Revisit it today,” he said.

He said a south-westerly change forecast to come through by Sunday morning did not mean fire services would be able to relax.

Ambulance Victoria operations manager Paul Holman warned parents to avoid leaving children in hot cars.

Mr Holman said several “lock-ins” occurred yesterday, some of which were accidental but others due to negligence.

“We have had reports of people in a hotel picking up a slab, the whole range and gamut of things,” he said.

He said there were large events being held across Victoria this weekend, including the St Kilda Festival, meant emergency services staff were on high alert.

“If you are going to the beach … swimming and alcohol do not mix,” he said.

Mr Lapsley said the conditions this weekend were not as bad as those Victoria faced on Black Saturday, but they were still worrying.

“That’s not to say that we can’t see significant fires having impact on communities, threaten people and certainly cause injury and possibly death, they are the sort of conditions we face.”

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