Vic Gippsland fire areas ‘feel forgotten’

Vic Gippsland fire areas ‘feel forgotten’

14 February 2014

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Australia — Fire-affected communities in parts of eastern Victoria feel they have been forgotten about, Victoria’s fire chief admits.

Since February 6, 432 fires have destroyed 45 homes, 9000 cattle and sheep and crops across Victoria.

Ten fires remain out of control in East Gippsland, particularly near Orbost and Bairnsdale.

The threat of the Mickleham-Kilmore fire north of Melbourne has abated with firefighters containing the blaze which had burnt through 23,000 hectares, destroying 18 of the 45 homes burned down across the state.

“The fires around Kilmore have had a larger impact on communities and the deep set of bushfires of East Gippsland are critical fires that are still being managed,” Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said.

“It’s interesting that some of our East Gippsland communities have, in some respects, felt somewhat forgotten. I’d like to assure them that that’s not the case.”

The fires in far East Gippsland have burnt more than 130,000 hectares between the Snowy River and NSW border.

Most were sparked by lightning in mid-January, with the four largest now joined.

Bushfires in the Mallee region in Victoria’s northwest that also began in mid-January have now been given the final all-clear.

Bushfire Response Services Minister Kim Wells on Friday said 56 aircraft and thousands of firefighters are working in Gippsland, Kilmore and Wallan.

Slow progress is being made in managing two blazes in open-cut coal mines in Morwell in the Latrobe Valley, with a small fire in Yallourn and a larger fire running three kilometres and 30 metres high at the mine that feeds the Hazelwood Power Station.

Nine firefighters have been treated for exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide at Hazelwood.

Mr Lapsley said he does not believe that smoke pollution will present a significant health risk for communities.

Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Mr Wells have announced funding assistance in 12 local government areas.

“As the full impacts of these bushfires become evident, we continue to stand by these bushfire-affected areas and assist with the costs incurred as a result of fighting the fires and defending communities,” Mr Wells said.

“Assessment of the damage caused by these bushfires could take some time and further assistance will be extended to the communities as their needs become apparent.”

Fourteen of the fires are believed to be suspicious.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright believes a new dob-in ad campaign will help to stem bushfire arson.

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