Victorians warned to brace for severe fire danger

Victorians warned to brace for severe fire danger

Offshore Technology International -
FIRE authorities are warning an early morning wind change will cause damaging fires to change direction, putting Camperdown and Penshurst in the direct line of fire.

FIRE authorities are warning an early morning wind change will cause damaging fires to change direction, putting Camperdown and Penshurst in the direct line of fire.

Winds currently travelling south-easterly at up to 109km/h are expected to soon change direction and head west.

CFA authorities have issued urgent warnings for nearby communities with residents in Hawkesdale told to evacuate and head to a basketball stadium in Warrnambool.

There is an emergency warning for the townships of Ayrford, Bostocks Creek, Brucknell, Bullaharre, Carpendeit, Cobden, Cobrico, Cowleys Creek, Curdies River, Dixie, Ecklin South, Elingamite, Elingamite North, Garvoc, Glenfyne, Jancourt, Jancourt East, Mumblin, Nirranda East, Nullawarre, Scotts Creek, Simpson, South Purrumbete, Tandarook, Tandarook South, Taroon, Tesbury, Timboon.

There is also an emergency warning for Carlisle River, Chapple Vale, Cooriemungle, Irrewillipe, Kennedys Creek, Scotts Creek, Simpson, Waarre.

The head of the fire in Terang is currently quite narrow but spans about a 20km distance.

The wind change has the potential to make the fire front “very long” and put homes in towns including Camperdown at risk.

A fire predicted to hit Hawkesdale was yet to arrive by 2am but “running rapidly through grassland” toward the township.

A CFA spokesperson said Hawkesdale is “extremely dry” and is being lashed with “extreme winds”.

“If you are located in Hawkesdale, it is strongly recommended that you evacuate now and seek shelter at The Arc Gymnasium Stadium located on the Caramut Road in Warrnambool,” read a CFA warning.

Forecasts of the westerly wind change would cause the fire front to spread toward Penshurst.

“It’s concerning. People need to be aware of the wind change,” a CFA spokesperson said.

Authorities have grave fears multiple fires could come together, creating an enormous front about 45kms north east of Warrnambool.

There were unconfirmed reports at least one house in Camperdown and the local golf club had been lost late Saturday night.

There are reports people are trapped in the fire zone, with emergency services responding to calls for help in Elingamite North. Police have been contacted.

Other homes were under serious threat, with residents fleeing the quick-spreading fires affecting up to 20 towns.

CFA authorities on Saturday night issued terrifying emergency warnings to residents near Camperdown and Garvoc to stay indoors as it was no longer safe to flee.

“If your home is surrounded by grasslands, and you are not in an estate, you should immediately shelter within your home. It is not safe for you to leave,” the warning read.

John Hamilton filmed shocking video of the fires engulfing Camperdown and surrounds from a lookout at the town’s caravan park.

It showed massive burning lines of fire.

“It’s huge,” Mr Hamilton said. “It is pretty incredible stuff. It looks like the crater has come alive and that there are lines of volcanic lava.”

A spokesman for the Camperdown Golf Club said he had received reports that the club was “up in flames”.

“Nothing’s been confirmed but there’s reports from people staying at the caravan park that have been evacuated and some of them have seen the big fire and flames in the crater,” he said.

“Because the golf club is set in a crater, it would spread particularly quick.”

Relief centres were opened in Camperdown and Warrnambool last night.

Emergency warnings have also been issued for the nearby towns of Buckley Swamp, Byaduk, Gazette, Gerrigerrup, Mount Napier, Penshurst, Tabor, Yatchaw, Warrabkook.

Firefighters tirelessly worked through the night to fight the major fires, which broke out near each other.

There were concerns two spreading fires would join, creating a huge front.

“There are two fires that firefighters watching very closely to join together in Terang and Gnotuk,” the CFA said.

The substation in Terang was exploding with loud bangs as fire ripped tore through after lightening struck dry surrounding paddocks.

Paul Chapman, who lives on the northern edge of Terang, said the sky was “glowing”.

He shot shocking footage of the fire at the town’s substation, where hay bales were alight.

“The reason I realised there was a fire was because the power went out and I walked outside and could see the sky glowing,” Mr Chapman said. “There are fires popping up everywhere.”

Mr Chapman said he had spoken to a neighbour about where to leave their homes, with most concern about the Garvoc fire.

“The wind feels like it has dropped a bit — it was really feral there for a bit — and the temperature,” he said.

“Where I am, because of the wind, the smoke isn’t too bad.”

Brett Gasper said it was a frightening sight. “The red sky and smell of smoke is daunting. My 12-year-old son is anxious. He’s packed his bags,” he told the Sunday Herald Sun.

A woman was also trapped inside her caravan as an aluminium shed was ripped from the ground by wild winds.

A relief centre was on Saturday night established in Warrnambool for those who chose to leave their homes.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley earlier warned residents not to become complacent as with forecasters predicted the fire threat to rise as the sun went down.

He said the hottest temperatures would hit on Sunday.

“We think this is quite a significant event in the sense that the winds remain strong all night,” Mr Lapsley said.

“That is something we don’t always experience.

“We’re seeing dry weather, hot weather overnight and windy weather.

“We’ve got overnight temperatures staying up — in some parts the hottest part of the day will be at breakfast time (on Monday).”


EARLIER on Saturday, a house was destroyed by fire in the Dandenongs, after a blaze took hold of the multistorey home located on Gembrook-Launching Place Road late this afternoon.

The charred remains of the Gembrook home have been left scattered across the ground.

It was one of more than 30 fires which ignited across Victoria, with firefighters fearing the blazes may intensify throughout the night.

Unusually windy and warm March weather had authorities bracing for the spread of bushfires already burning across the state.

It is suspected some of Saturday’s blazes may have been deliberately lit and authorities have urged the public to be on the lookout for arsonists or anyone ignoring the total fire ban.

The bushfire at Seaview, in the east of the state, has spread to 254 hectares but is not threatening communities.

An advice message remains in place for areas around Allambee, Seaview, and Yarragon.

A number of bushfires also broke out after the 3.30pm warnings were issued, including in Rosebud, Werribee, Pakenham and north of Murchison.

Another small fire was also burning at Rokewood.

Fire investigators are probing the Mill Park blaze as well as a fast-spreading grassfire which ignited at a golf course in Vermont South on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Lapsley said there was no lightning in that area at the time so it’s likely the fires were the result of “human hand”.

Additional fire crews were deployed to the fire on Saturday afternoon to tackle hot spots, and continued to work throughout the night when winds of up to 70kmh are predicted.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley has warned residents not to become complacent, with forecasters predicting that when the sun goes down the threat of fire could go up.

“Most people in Victoria would think about bushfires burning during the day,” Mr Lapsley said.

“We prompt people to think tonight, this afternoon ... what if there was a fire in their district in the night hours what would they do and how would they react and behave?”

By 3pm, the SES has been called out 50 times for trees down and firefighters had brought 31 small blazes under control.

A large bushfire in the Cathedral Range was also brought under control, but communities in surrounding towns have been warned to remain vigilant.

“We’re seeing dry weather, hot weather overnight and windy weather,” Mr Lapsley said.

“If we do have fires running, and they run into the night that is quite challenging for communities — especially if the fire starts late in the day.”

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