The official death toll in Victoria’s bushfire crisis has risen to three, as authorities confirm the car accident that killed “well-loved guy” Mat Kavanagh on Friday was fire-related.
- Mr Kavanagh, 43, was remembered for his “friendly and welcoming nature”
- The father-of-two was working on fire prevention before he died
- Emergency authorities warn fire conditions remain dangerous, despite cooler weather
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said Mr Kavanagh, 43, and his colleague were involved in a two-vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway.
Mr Kavanagh, who was working for Forest Fire Management Victoria, died at the scene.
He is survived by his wife Jude, six-year-old son Ruben and four-year-old daughter Kate.
“This news has come as a huge shock to the entire emergency management community,” Ms Neville said.
“He’s been remembered for his friendly and welcoming nature, his passion for the environment and nature and his love of fly-fishing.”
Mr Kavanagh’s colleague was taken to hospital in a stable condition after the crash and later released.
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said Mr Kavanagh had been with the agency for 10 years and was conducting fire prevention work the day of his death.
“On that day he had extinguished seven unattended campfires. He was doing incredibly critical work,” Mr Hardman said.
“He was a Melbourne boy who had a great love for the great outdoors, and a keen fisherman.
“He started with us as a project firefighter and decided to live in the north-east of Victoria.
“He’s such a well-loved guy.
“It’s a devastating loss.
“I can’t imagine what Mat’s family are going through.”
Chris Hardman tweets: It’s with great sadness that I share the news of the loss of one of our own during what has been an extremely difficult and challenging time for many.
Buchan “hero” Mick Roberts was identified as the first victim of the bushfire emergency, while Maramingo Creek timber worker Fred Becker was confirmed dead at the weekend.
Hundreds of homes have been destroyed as the fires rage across East Gippsland and the state’s north-east.
Final maritime evacuees from Mallacoota arrive
The last evacuees from the cut-of town of Mallacoota have sailed into Western Port Bay onboard the Navy vessel HMAS Choules.
The coastal town, near the NSW border, was hit by an out-of-control bushfire on New Year’s Day that forced thousands to shelter on the foreshore.
HMAS Choules docked near HMAS Cerberus this afternoon, marking the end of the maritime operation to get more than 1,000 people out of the community.
About 200 evacuees, along with 66 CFA volunteers, will be brought ashore on landing craft to be reunited with friends and family.
Mallacoota remains without power but many locals have opted to stay in the town, which remains completely cut off, as work continues to clear fallen and damaged trees from the only road out of town.
Fires remain ‘dangerous, dynamic and volatile’
Fire crews are today attempting controlled burns near coastal communities in a bid to protect property ahead of a wind change predicted to cause problems across fire grounds later this week.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said fire conditions on Friday were likely to rise to extreme in the Northern Country, severe in the Mallee and north-east and very high in East Gippsland.
Mr Crisp said there were 21 fires burning throughout the state this afternoon.
“That’s more than 1.2 million hectares, mainly of the eastern part of our state, that has burnt,” he said.
Rain and cooler temperatures this week have granted a brief reprieve to firefighters, but Ms Neville said the rain had “in no way changed the risk”.
“These fires remain dangerous, dynamic and volatile,” she said.
Another expected round of dry lighting, combined with a forecast wind change, could potentially cause fast-moving fires across Victoria, she said.
A group of 67 North American firefighters arrived in Melbourne this morning and will start working with local fire crews on Saturday.
Mr Crisp said they would help the CFA analyse and plan how to fight fires in difficult terrain, and support air crews.
The North American crew joins 41 firefighters from the United States already working in East Gippsland.
Another 140 people from North America are due to arrive in two weeks to help with incident management.