Australia — Towering flames reach to the sky in a spectacular scene that resembles a volcano eruption as a wall of fire rages at an Australian coal mine.
Dramatic photographs have emerged of an out-of-control fire at Hazelwood open-cut coal mine, which has left the Victorian town of Morwell exposed to smoke and ash.
The fire is burning over 400 hectares of land, with flames reaching between 20 and 50 metres high.
Sick and elderly people are being urged to leave the town, amid mounting concern over the health risks associated with rising carbon monoxide levels.
The Government is expected to make an announcement today on the recommended course of action for thousands of residents in Victoria’s LaTrobe Valley who have been enveloped by a thick, smokey haze for the past three weeks after the coal mine blaze broke out.
Fresh fears of potential landslides have emerged, as firefighters pour tens of thousands of water on the out-of-control fire at the mine pit.
While firefighters do their best to contain the blaze, there are new concerns that the mine’s walls may not be structurally sound with cracks opening up along the mine’s southern walls.
Vulnerable people such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women and anyone with respiratory conditions are being urged to leave the area.
Emergency officials says that although an evacuation has not been declared, they are recommending people leave the area if they are affected by the smoke.
On February 9 an arsonist lit a bushfire that spread to the site in Morwell, Victoria, leaving Hazelwood open-cut mine ablaze. Coal mine fires like this one are particularly hard to put out because they are difficult for firefighters to access underground.
Even if the fire looks extinguished it keeps smouldering. A mine spokesperson told MiningAustralia.com.au: You can drop a bucket of water over it and it looks like the fire is out, but it will come back as a smouldering fire.
Morwell, a town 150km east of Melbourne, is touted by tourism agencies as Victorias energy centre.
The town’s 14,000 residents are worried about the long-term health risks associated with exposure to smoke, even though health officials say there is no risk.
We are in the dark, we don’t know what’s going on, one resident told ABC.
Authorities say the best case scenario would see the fire extinguished in 14 days but concede it could take months.
And police are still hunting for the arsonist who they say has knowledge of fire behaviour amid fears the perpetrator could strike again.
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Detective Sen-Constable Jason Benbow said police were focusing on arsonists who had struck before, The Herald Sun reported.
‘We think someone with local knowledge is behind this, and definitely a knowledge of fire behaviour.
This fire has caused millions and millions dollars of damage, not to mention the health effects it has caused, plus the possibility of the power station going down.
Victoria’s chief health officer Rosemary Lester said an evacuation plan had been prepared but it was not yet necessary to carry out.
We’ve been keeping a very close eye on the carbon monoxide and that has not been a level of concern, which is good, she said.
About 25,000 face masks have been given to residents, Vice reported.
Residents are gathering evidence in order to launch a possible class action against the owners of the mine.
Local protest organiser Nerissa Albon said: We’re going to collect data to find out whose businesses are suffering and what are the health issues.
They’re scared, they’re starting to get annoyed now…. nobody can say when it’s going to finish, it could go on for months. They would want compensation.