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Dry conditions hampering efforts to fight bushfires in eastern Victoria

Laura Poole and Ashlee Aldridge, Tuesday November 26, 2019 - 10:32 EDT
ABC licensed image
Extreme dryness is hampering efforts to fight a bushfire burning near Bruthen. - ABC licensed

Fires burning along the Great Dividing Range in eastern Victoria are behaving in ways expected in January and February as fuel loads are so dry.



Fires burning in East Gippsland included an 850-hectare fire near Bruthen and a 600-hectare fire burning near Gelantipy. In the north-east of the state, a 300-hectare fire is burning in the Mount Bogong area.

Last Thursday lightning strikes and hot, gusty winds .



Emergency Management Victoria incident controller Peter Brick, in Bairnsdale, said the warmer temperatures and winds would create challenges for firefighters.

"We're experiencing really dry conditions out in the forest. All the fuels are available to burn. So it's creating some real difficulty for firefighters on the ground," he said on Monday morning.

"Really we're into summer conditions already.

"East Gippsland has had three years of below-average rainfall, and we are seeing that play out now.

"The forest is so dry that even light winds and benign weather is causing fires to be quite difficult to contain.

"People should be not thinking that it's late November and we've got time to get ready for summer. Summer is here now.

"We are seeing fire behaviour like you would expect in January and February due to the lack of rain we've had.

"So people should be considering all the things you would normally do in summer for the bushfire season. So prepare your properties, ensure you've got multiple ways of getting good information."

Bruthen Neighbourhood House manager Annie Pearce said some residents left town at the weekend due to the amount of smoke.

"There's a bit of anxiety," she said.

"I think locals are naturally concerned but they are enacting their fire plans and moving stock as needed.

"We are pretty old hands at fires here in Bruthen."



Roads and walking tracks closed

Several fires continue to burn in the Mount Bogong area, which were also ignited by lightning last Thursday.

The fires have grown, the largest being an estimated 300 hectares.

"Today will be a difficult day, and we expect the coming days to be quite challenging, but we have plenty of resources on site," Forest Fire Management Victoria Hume deputy chief fire officer Aaron Kennedy said on Monday morning.

"The remote locations of these fires are proving to be challenging for our crews and we fully expect them to burn for a number of weeks as firefighters work hard to contain them."

All walking tracks at Mt Bogong have now been closed.

"We don't want any hikers up there this week at all, so we are asking people to stay off there," he said.

Roads were closed in the Alpine National Park, including around 100 kilometres of the Omeo Highway between Omeo and Mitta Mitta.

Mr Brick said it was "quite a stretch" of road to be closed, but emergency services "just didn't want anyone in that vicinity".



'It's no good being half ready'

Meanwhile, a fire at an East Gippsland winery last week has prompted its owners to urge landholders to prepare for a bad fire season.

Tony Dawkins from Glenmaggie Wines thought he was prepared.

But his experience , where he lost a shed and a fire moved into nearby scrub, made him rethink what being prepared for fire really meant.

"I've got no excuse for not being better prepared," he said.

"I'm an ex-firefighter. I do have the equipment here, I had it mostly set up. It's no good being half ready. You have to be ready.

"The pump has to be hooked up, fuel has to be in it, it has to go first or second pull, you need to practise — otherwise you're kidding yourself."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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