Forty-four people had to leave their homes in the region west of Cobden last night and one person was taken to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning.
Authorities visited a further 30 homes this afternoon, encouraging a similar number of people to temporarily relocate after a slight wind change this afternoon.
Police and CFA crews went door-to-door overnight, urging people to head to a fire relief centre at the Terang Civic Hall.
One Cobrico area farmer, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was advised to evacuate to Terang at 3:00am this morning.
“They told us to pack underpants and socks in case they have to send us to hospital,” he said.
“We didn’t have to go, but they tested us [for carbon monoxide poisoning] and we were fine.”
He said he was told it was in his ‘best interest to not come back’ to his farm.
But many farmers had no option but to return home to milk their cows, despite the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“The cows have got to be milked and I’ve got a mortgage that’s got to be paid, so I’ve got no choice,” the farmer said, adding that even the farmers whose properties were not burnt out were dealing with the ramifications of the St Patrick’s Day blazes.
“[These fires are] going to have quite a financial impact on all the surrounding farms that didn’t get burnt.
“It has had a massive impact on us because we had no power for 48 hours. We couldn’t check our stock or milk the cows.
“But compared to the poor bastards that have been burnt, we’ve got nothing to whinge about.”
CFA incident controller Mark Gunning said the authorities were monitoring the weather and the air quality, and working to keep locals informed and order evacuations if necessary.
“There may be further people requested to relocate today with changing weather conditions,” Mr Gunning said.
“[The wind is] going to move around to the north today which will put people south of this peat fire at risk.
“It was people to the west and south-west of the swamp where we received some significant readings of carbon monoxide build-up [and] that was the area evacuated last night.
“We’ve done some testing and it’s only an area of two kilometres in the downwind direction of the peat swamp that we’re looking [at] but we’ll monitor that and weather conditions today and in coming days.”
He said anyone with any health concerns such as respiratory distress or unexplained fatigue should seek urgent medical assistance.
The slow burn
Putting out the fires in the peat swamp is a difficult task.
The Cobrico farmer estimated the peat will continue to smoke and smoulder until big rains in winter, and the CFA acknowledged that the fires could burn in the swamps for months.
CFA deputy incident controller Kade Dowie said there were peat fires burning across all four fire grounds in the south-west, with the largest one being at Cobrico.
“The peat, when it burns, does have a tendency to produce large amounts of really dense, thick smoke which is quite visible from some distance and can give the impression the fires have restarted and are burning out of control. But that’s not necessarily the case,” Mr Dowie said.
“It poses quite a few problems for firefighters.
“The depth of some of the peat pits can be six to eight metres deep and it’s very difficult to traverse when it’s burning. It’s not safe to drive fire trucks across the top of it.
“So access to the peat can be quite a significant issue for us.”
He said the usual approach was to flood the area with a large volume of water from a nearby dam or lake and flood the area, but that might not always be an option.