22 Feb 2009

Bushfire threat again high in Victoria

9:46 pm on 22 February 2009

Residents of several communities in Victoria are being warned to consider leaving their homes on Sunday as extreme bushfire conditions are forecast to return on Monday.

As a memorial service to honour the 209 people who lost their lives in Victoria's bushfires was held in Melbourne on Sunday, three blazes continued to burn in the state.

The ABC reports that the Department of Sustainability and Enviroment's Lee Miezis says the fires in the Warburton Valley and Yarra Valley are causing the most concern and could threaten numerous towns.

"If residents in the Warburton Valley make the decision to leave, they should do so early and by early, I mean Sunday evening or Monday morning," he said.

He said "I can't stress enough that with limited road access in the Warburton Valley, traffic may become congested and being on the roads is very dangerous during a fire threat."

The Country Fire Authority says residents who do not want to stay to protect their homes should leave on Sunday night.

Several schools in the region will not open on Monday.

State Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman James Todd says people need to be prepared.

"In the north, we're also warning residents in the Enoch Point area about the severe fire danger for Monday, and again if they've decided to leave, they should also make that decision early rather than being on the road during a fire event," he said.

Melbourne memorial

Thousands of mourners gathered at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Sunday to remember the dead and missing.

The ringing of church bells signalled the start of the 90 minute service and smaller ceremonies were held elsewhere in Australia. Sunday is a national day of mourning.

Members of the official party including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the State Premier, Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Princess Anne laid flowers at a wreath to remember the dead.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Black Saturday saw the worst of nature but the best of humanity, and vowed that every year on February 7 Australian flags would fly at half mast.

Mr Rudd said "no words can provide solace for grief so personal. But simply know this. You who suffer are not alone. This great Australian family here assembled and across the nation today is with you."

Victoria's Governor David de Kretser said "these have also been difficult days for all Victorians. Days of fear, of pain and now of haunting sadness."

The Princess Royal who attended the service on behalf of the Queen, read out a message written by Queen Elizabeth, passed on her condolences and said she would visit some of the affected areas.

In his tribute, Victorian Premier John Brumby said "indiscriminate fires have taken too many and too much. These fires have united us all in grief. They have united us all in our response".

The ceremony was broadcast across Australia and there was a minute's silence towards the ceremony's end.