Vic mine fire smoke affects firefighters

Vic mine fire smoke affects firefighters

12 February 2014

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Australia — Firefighters have been exposed to potentially harmful levels of carbon monoxide as they battle a blaze in a Victorian coal mine.

Nine firefighters had to be treated after elevated levels of the potentially dangerous gas were detected in their blood and respiratory systems.

They had been battling a 4400-hectare fire burning into an open-cut coal mine near Morwell in the Latrobe Valley.

Operations have been temporarily pulled back from within the mine but will continue from the edge.

The EPA has put a monitoring system in place but Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley says the high levels of carbon monoxide are confined to the mine.

“The levels detected in the mine are because they’re in isolated areas, they’re in areas where it can’t be properly ventilated,” Mr Lapsley said on Wednesday.

“There’s no detection of increased carbon monoxide levels outside the mine.”

Firefighters have been given air quality monitors and are being tested each time they enter and leave the mine, and also at the end of each shift.

The Hazelwood power station is continuing to increase its capacity despite the proximity of the Morwell blaze.

The fire, which is largely contained, is creating a huge amount of black smoke.

There are still 18 fires burning across Victoria, but the immediate emergency has eased for communities around the Mickleham Kilmore fire.

Hundreds of residents near that fire, north of Melbourne, began returning home on Wednesday as some road blocks were lifted.

Mr Lapsley said it was a slow process because VicRoads, Victoria Police and firefighting authorities had to conduct safety assessments.

The danger was no longer the fires, he said, but damaged roads, bridges, burnt signage and weakened trees.

“We certainly don’t want where we’re allowing residents back in to find that a tree falls over a car,” Mr Lapsley said.

The fire, which began in Mickleham on Sunday and spread over an area of about 50km to Kilmore, has destroyed at least 12 homes.

A falling tree limb even hit a firetruck on Monday evening, but no one was injured.

Fire crews spent Wednesday using aircraft with infrared cameras to find hot spots and to build up containment lines around the fire.

In total, 34 homes have been destroyed in the state’s latest fire emergency, but that number is expected to rise as authorities assess a large number of damaged houses.

No one has died or been seriously injured.

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said the success of the firefight has proven how much things have changed in the past five years.

“The lessons learnt from Black Saturday have really made a difference with these very serious conditions,” he said on Wednesday after being briefed by fire authorities in Gippsland.

“For every house that was lost, there were hundreds saved, and that’s to the great credit of our firefighters.”

He said improved warnings and co-ordination between fire agencies had also played a key role in saving lives.

Fires in East Gippsland are also continuing to burn in remote and rugged terrain.

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