3 Feb 2019

Bushfires in Victoria: 'If it goes, it goes'

8:43 pm on 3 February 2019

Authorities have issued five separate emergency alerts for bush fires burning in the Australian state of Victoria.

Flames in undergrowth - generic image.

Photo: 123RF

An emergency warning has been in place throughout the day for a fire at the popular tourist town of Hepburn Springs, where footage captured by one resident showed a wall of fire engulfing trees near the hotel last night.

At 2.45pm local time, the Country Fire Authority issued an emergency alert for residents south of Gillingall, for a fire which has been burning in remote East Gippsland since mid-January.

Less than an hour later, a third emergency alert was issued for communities around the Grantville Nature Reserve on the Bass Coast.

Victoria's emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said 49 new grass, scrub and bushfires had broken out in today's hot conditions.

"We knew today was going to be a tough day for us as a state ... and that's the way it's panning out at the moment," he said this afternoon.

Twenty-three incident control centres were operating in eight regions across the state, staffed by more than 500 people, he said.

"On the ground, literally there are hundreds and hundreds of firefighters working on fires that have been going for, in some cases, the last two or three weeks," Mr Crisp said.

There were also 69 firefighting aircraft being used to battle the various blazes.

There is a total fire ban across the state.

'You could smell the smoke' in Hepburn

The Hepburn bushfire is travelling in a southerly direction, and Hepburn and the northern section of Hepburn Springs could be impacted at any time, authorities warned earlier today.

Ben Joyce, whose home in Hepburn Springs backs onto the fire, said he did not wait for official warnings to evacuate after he was attending a show in the town and came out to see fire on the horizon.

"We came out the front of the hotel [and] saw a significant fire approaching Hepburn.

"Facing the gully, we could really just see a wall of fire, the tops of the trees were just catching alight and it was moving quite quickly.

"[It was] pretty scary, you could smell the smoke. Pretty intense."

He said he evacuated his grandparents from a local nursing home this morning.

"There are quite a few people who are very nervous around there, waiting to be collected.

"The staff down there were really organised but obviously for the residents, who are quite elderly, it's quite stressful for them having to shift all of a sudden."

By 4pm today, the fire had burnt out about 28 hectares.

"It is looking somewhat more positive than it was first thing this morning, but again we are not becoming complacent about this fire as we know that there is still plenty of heat in the day," Mr Crisp said this afternoon.

He said winds were expected to pick up in the evening, which could make conditions difficult for firefighters.

Dozens of fire trucks and multiple aircraft are battling the blaze, which flared up yesterday evening after it was started by lightning on Wednesday.

An evacuation centre has been set up in Daylesford and authorities door knocked 70 homes this morning.

A community meeting is scheduled for 6.00pm.

A number of roads were closed, and authorities warned visitors to stay away from the area, which is a popular tourism destination.

"Our crews are having an impact, particularly with the combination of ground crews and aircraft being able to suppress the fire and hold the fire to where it's currently at," Mr Crisp said.

"But we're still in the earlier part of the day and the hottest and windiest part of the day is yet to come.

"The predictions we have from our fire behaviour people are that if this fire is to expand, particularly out to the east, it'll make a significant run."

'Ashes all over the house' of AFL legend

The Hepburn fire started near the property of former AFL player and coach Robert Walls this week.

He said it was extinguished, but flared up again last night with strong winds.

"At about 6pm, it just took off," he said.

"There was a bit of northerly wind, and it just swept through there down through the gorge. It circled around the house.

"They had 42 fire trucks - they came from everywhere. The CFA guys were marvellous but it went on all night.

"It then came back towards us. There were trees on fire everywhere and ashes all over the house."

He chose to stay and defend his property, managing just an hour's sleep.

Robin and Georgiana Archer, who are at the evacuation centre, said the fire was about 500 metres from their property last night.

The couple have been evacuated a number of times before during previous fires.

"We just hope we can get back tonight, that's all," Mr Archer said.

"We can't do much more [to prepare] than what we've done to our house - if it goes, it goes."


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