Conditions ease but fire threat far from overBy Martin Cuddihy, Thursday January 10, 2013 - 02:00 EDT
Cooler weather in some regions has been a blessing for the thousands still battling out-of-control bushfires around the country, but the threat is still simmering across eastern, northern and central Australia.
Authorities are warning the bushfire emergency is not over yet and sweltering conditions are expected to return later this week.
The heatwave affecting south-eastern Australia is moving up the coast to northern New South Wales and Queensland, with temperatures reaching almost 40 degrees Celsius near Brisbane on Wednesday.
From Queensland's gulf country to Tasmania, vast tracts of eastern Australia are burning and despite cooler temperatures in New South Wales, the bushfire danger is far from over.
Authorities are worried about several regions including Shoalhaven, Yass and Cooma, where the fire warnings have now been downgraded to watch-and-act alerts.
There are still more than 130 fires burning across the state.
NSW Rural Fire Service Assistant Commissioner Anthony Clark has confirmed a house has burnt down in the Kybean Valley.
Mr Clark says Wednesday's reprieve from the searing heat could only be temporary.
"On Monday and Tuesday with that big mass of hot air in the centre of the country, where we are even looking at temperatures up around the 50-degree mark right in the centre of the continent, there is the potential for that hot air to be blown down through New South Wales with those winds that we're expecting as well," he said.
"That is a real concern for us and that's why we're doing as much as possible to get on top of the fires that we've got burning at the moment."
The Bureau of Meteorology's temperature forecast maps suggest the heatwave will last for the next week:
Further south, Victorian firefighters had to deal with several fast-moving grassfires near Melbourne on Wednesday, but there have been no reports of damage.
About 100 firefighters were called in to control a blaze that was about 500 metres from homes at Wallan.
Authorities are investigating whether this blaze and two others between Kilmore and Pyalong - which broke out within 30 minutes of each other - may have been deliberately lit.
CFA spokesman John Leben says anyone who may have seen suspicious activity in the area should contact police.
"It's unusual that you get that amount of fire activity, and they're separate fires, all in particularly a linear fashion like that," he said.
In Tasmania, authorities are still fighting several fronts, including the blaze at Forcett that destroyed homes in and around Dunalley last Friday.
It caused a number of road closures on the Tasman Peninsula on Wednesday.
Crews are also water-bombing another fire at Curries River in the state's north.
The bushfire threat eased across Queensland on Wednesday night. There were more than 60 fires burning across the state throughout the day, but less than 10 remain.
Parts of Bribie Island, just north of Brisbane, were evacuated as a number of fires put homes at risk.
A watch-and-act alert has since been cancelled, but crews there will conduct back-burning throughout the night.
Christine Knyvett lives and works on the island.
"When I went home at lunchtime today it was just a mass of smoke and embers all over the pool - all over the back verandah - and you couldn't see very much except for just feeling the heat and seeing the blow," she said.
"At this stage it's in the state forest and we haven't heard of any homes being lost or anything like that in White Patch."
In Queensland's north, fires have been burning across the gulf country for weeks.
Barry Hughes runs Brahman cattle on the 80,000-hectare North Head Station.
"Some of those fires are still out of control. There's not much left to burn in the Etheridge Shire," he said.
"There's like 1.7 million acres of country that have been burnt out in the last month and huge losses of grazing land. There's been substantial stock losses across the shire. It's hard to actually put a figure on that."
Cooler weather in the Northern Territory is helping crews tackle a blaze east of Alice Springs at Ross River. The Ross Highway has been closed with fires burning on both sides of the road.
Earlier on Wednesday, senior fire controller Geoff Kenna and his crews were trying to protect the area that includes tourist attractions.
"A break has been completed on the west side of the fire and there has back burning off that break. Machinery and equipment and personnel have now been moved up to the western side of Ross River Resort and a break is being put in from Ross River Highway," he said.
Meanwhile, a 76-year-old man has been ordered to face court later in the month, accused of starting a fire with an angle grinder in the New South Wales central west on Tuesday.
Police allege the sparks from the angle grinder caused a grass fire which quickly got out of control, spreading to neighbouring properties.
Fire crews responded and worked throughout the night, but the fire continues to burn, affecting up to 140 hectares of bushland.
A landowner at Middle Dural, outside of Sydney, has also been issued with an infringement notice after lighting a fire to burn off logs this morning in the midst of a total fire ban.
© ABC 2013
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