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Rosedale firefighters prepare for possible bushfire flare-up over weekend

By Beth Gibson, Friday January 11, 2019 - 19:59 EDT
ABC image
Fire fighters work to prevent further ignition of the Rosedale fire over the forecast hot weekend. - ABC

A fire that began in Rosedale, in Victoria's Gippsland, one week ago has now burnt more than 12,000 hectares of state forest and plantations.

Authorities are particularly concerned about the hot weather forecast for this weekend with temperatures higher than 35 degrees Celsius also predicted for Monday and Tuesday.

"We are anticipating that there will be increased smoke coming out of the fire over today, tomorrow, and into the warmer period next week," said Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning regional controller Ben Rankin.

Monitoring fire perimeter ahead of hot weekend

An 80-kilometre , but authorities are warning that sections could still ignite in bad conditions.

Forest Fire Management Victoria operations officer Darryl Burns said about 300 firefighters were working day and night to put out potential spot fires and flare-ups.

"We've got a number of tankers, heavy plant equipment like bulldozers and harvesters, as well as the aircraft available to us," Mr Burns said who said the weather could lead to parts of the fire becoming active again.

"We are doing our utmost to ensure [a flare-up] doesn't happen again."

He said the focus now was on ensuring hot material did not escape the perimeter.

"We are systematically working around the perimeter of this fire, detecting and extinguishing all those hot spots or burning bits of material to ensure that they can't give rise to the fire escaping," Mr Burns said.

Mr Rankin said the perimeter was very long so the team was prioritising work at spots where the fire was most at risk of escaping.

"We are quite confident we will be able to continue to hold that control line," he said.

"What we are finding is that even on mild days with not too much wind, the fires are running quite quickly through the grass and into the forest."

High alert over hot weather forecast

Below average rainfalls and hotter temperatures over the past few years have created a large amount of fire fuel, including fallen leaves and dry grass.

"Our fire season really started in Gippsland in August and September, so that really goes to show the underlying dryness in the landscape," Mr Burns said.

Dry conditions means an active fire can quickly get out of control but in addition, one of the less visible aspects of the Rosedale fire is underground peat.

Peat is a highly combustible material, almost like coal, that can continue burning for months.

"The concern for us with this particular fire is that it will continue to burn underground, and potentially come to the surface at some point when the weather conditions become warmer," Mr Burns said.

But Mr Rankin emphasised that the peat in this fire was different to the releasing a large amount of carbon monoxide.

"It's not an issue for the community and it's not an issue for our firefighters," he said.

"We are working with our team in Traralgon to come up with a management plan for the few bits of peat that we have inside the line."

Nervous time for local farmer

The fire means Longford hay and silage farmer Brad Cumming has had a stressful week.

"We obviously had the warning there was a fire south of Rosedale and we came down and did what we could before leaving the area," Mr Cumming said.

He returned on Saturday morning to find significant damage to his property.

"We lost all our front fences and our trees and windbreaks, a couple of internal fences and all the hay and silage," he said.

But he is grateful no lives have been lost.

Warning to community

While authorities appear confident the fire is mostly under control, they are warning the community to remain vigilant and continue to monitor emergency warnings.

Firefighters will continue working for weeks to come.

"At the point we are at [with] this fire, we've slowed the fire right down," Mr Burns said.

"It's not getting any bigger, but it's what I refer to as the hard dirty work or the grind."

Mr Cumming said he would not be taking any chances this weekend.

"Hopefully we've been burnt out enough now and there's no more to come," he said.

"But we'll still be on high alert with it definitely."


© ABC 2019

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