AUSTRALIA – Out-of-control peat fires in Victoria’s southwest have forced the relocation of three schools and residents of an aged care facility as the fires continue to produce toxic carbon monoxide.
Four fires broke out around Terang, 40 minutes east of Warrnambool, on March 17 all of which involved power lines sparking the blaze.
While firefighters have extinguished most of the fires and properties are not considered at risk, the burning peat fires are difficult to extinguish.
The peat fire of most concern is burning near Cobrico and is 58ha by 7m deep.
Fifty-two residents from an aged care facility in Cobden have been relocated as a precautionary measure and students as Hampden Specialist School, Cobden Technical School and Cobden Primary School will be moved later this week.
So far 158 people, including firefighters, have undergone free health checks at the Terang Relief Centre.
Emergency services are encouraging community members located within 1km of the smoke plume to get their carbon monoxide levels tested regularly.
Incident Controller Mark Gunning recommended residents within 1km of the peat smoke plume to relocate overnight.
“If you are within 1km-6km of the peat smoke plume, it’s recommended you avoid outdoor physical activity,” he said.
“Our recommendation is you stay out of the smoke as much as possible. Carbon monoxide builds up gradually in the human body over a period of hours and will gradually be removed after exposure stops.”
Smoke from burning peat can contain carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides as well as sulphur compounds.
The Environmental Protection Authority has established incident air quality monitoring stations at Cobden, Camperdown, Terang and Cobrico.
For further information on fire activity and air quality visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au or call the VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226.
The St Patrick’s Day blazes were all ignited by power lines.
The fire in MacArthurs Penshurst Rd, Gazette, was caused when a tree fell onto power lines and brought them to the ground and electrical sparks ignited the surrounding vegetation.
The Terang-Cobden Rd fire was a result of power lines clashing in high winds, causing electrical arcs and igniting surrounding vegetation.
The Occupation lane, Garvoc, blaze was caused by a power pole snapping in high winds and falling to the ground while the Camperdown-Bullen Merri, Gnotuk, fire was also caused by a tree limb falling across power lines and bringing them to the ground.
An earth wire on a nearby power pole was then exposed, causing the pole to become energised and ignite surrounding vegetation.
Advice messages remain in place for bushfires at Penshurst, Terang and Cobden that have claimed 26 houses, more than 60 sheds and thousands of livestock.