Residents in most of Victoria’s bushfire-stricken areas are welcoming an extended reprieve after the latest threat appears to have wrought less carnage than feared, as a man was injured overnight in NSW.
While an emergency warning remains for a fire near Mt Hotham, the government has confirmed the Victorian state of disaster will end at midnight on Saturday.
Victorian authorities stress the danger is far from over as 20 fires burn across the state and 12 watch and fact warnings – down from 16 on Saturday morning – remain in place.
Even the welcome rain that fell in some areas brings its own problems, with the risk of flash flooding meaning a new deadly risk for firefighters.
Milder conditions are forecast for the next week to 10 days, meaning attention can turn increasingly to recovery and relieving exhausted emergency services workers.
The improved conditions brought relief in towns along the Great Alpine Road, including Bright, which were largely deserted ahead of Friday’s hot weather and gusty late cool change.
Dianne Gibbons, owner of Harrietville’s Bella’s Cafe, had filled wheelie bins and buckets with water and had a sprinkler system ready if embers reached the town on Friday evening.
But she said rain struck at the “just the perfect time”, with the easing of an emergency warning about 11pm allowing them some sleep.
“We started hearing that rain and we thought oh yeah, just keep bringing it on,” she told AAP.
Despite the reprieve, Swanny from the Harrietville Bakery said he is keenly aware the town has weeks of fire danger ahead.
“There’s still plenty of fires to come, and these ones, because they’re remote, they will just keep ticking along,” he said.
Firefighters worked through Friday night to contain blazes raging in the alpine and East Gippsland regions.
A grass fire near Wodonga destroyed two buildings, but that was brought under control.
The Mt Buffalo chalet also is not under immediate threat.
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville and Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Saturday morning that the conditions were varied, noting some of the northeast had received little rain and there were strong southerly winds .
“It is a tale of two states at the moment in terms of temperature and conditions,” Mr Crisp said.
The minister said two fires covering about 800 hectares in NSW and northeast Victoria had joined. Meanwhile the East Gippsland fire area covered about 900,000 hectares.
“We’re a long way from the end of this … we have a long to go in terms of our fire season,” the minister said.
While East Bairnsdale received a rain dump of about 18mm, the town of Mallacoota only received 2mm.
Authorities will spend the next few days trying to open the road into Mallacoota, which has been cut off for a week.
A specialist army vehicle drove the road on Friday to assess the damage.
“Literally we’re going over logs, all the way,” the minister said.
More than 1.3 million hectares have been razed since November 21.
The fires in Victoria have killed three men, while 286 homes and 400 other buildings have been damaged.
Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died when his vehicle crashed on the Goulburn Valley Highway on January 3.
Mick Roberts from Buchan and Maramingo Creek man Fred Becker were killed in the fires at East Gippsland on New Year’s Day.
As fire-affected communities now take stock, the minister said the mental toll is a big factor.
“There will be a lot of trauma out there … if you’re struggling, seek help,” she said.
“It will leave a scar for many people.”
Meanwhile, in NSW a man has been seriously injured but no homes have been destroyed as authorities breathe a sigh of relief following a “difficult” night.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said a man was seriously injured on Friday night while defending his property from a bushfire near Tumbarumba, southwest of Canberra.
“That person has suffered some very serious burns,” he told reporters at the RFS headquarters on Saturday morning.
“They were treated on scene and they were extricated in one of the water bombing helicopters that was working down there.
“The man was transferred to the Concord Hospital burns unit in Sydney and will undergo surgery on Saturday.
Four firefighters were also injured after they were “overrun by fire” while battling the Adaminaby blaze northwest of Cooma.
“They were treated by ambulance. They were triaged and treated last night and they have been released,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
More than 3000 firefighters were deployed throughout Friday night, battling a strong wind change that brought 90km/h gusts to dozens of dangerous fire grounds.
Three bushfires burning in the south on Friday evening merged to create a massive blaze in the Snowy Mountains region after being fanned by strong winds.
The 233,000-hectare Green Valley fire merged with the nearby East Ournie Creek blaze and the huge 312,000 hectare-Dunns Road fire, which were all at emergency level at one point on Friday night.
Initial reports indicated no homes were destroyed overnight but some sheds have been damaged, Mr Fitzsimmons said.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities were “incredibly relieved” to have come through the night relatively unscathed.
“I strongly believe one of the reasons we came through it as well as we did was the preparation,” she told reporters on Saturday morning.
“There is no doubt in my mind that that level of professionalism and preparedness allowed communities to survive another long and difficult night.”
As of 6am on Saturday there were 147 bushfires burning across NSW, with 65 of those uncontained and none burning at an “emergency” level
Firefighters will use forecast milder conditions over the next five to seven days to strengthen bushfire containment lines.
The SA Premier and tourism minister Steven Marshall, visited Emu Bay Lavender Farm to speak to Kangaroo Island tourism industry representatives.
A popular holiday lodge at Vivonne Bay on the Island is the latest hotel to been lost along with other properties in the south coast town during Thursday night’s escalation in the island’s bushfire emergency.
The blaze is still burning in some areas but the Country Fire Service has reduced its warnings to a simple bushfire alert.
Cooler conditions and rain on Friday allowed firefighters to stop most of its forward spread.
It’s now destroyed more than 170,000 hectares along with dozens of houses and hundreds of other buildings as well as claiming the lives of a father and son since it was first sparked by lightning more than two weeks ago.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has called for parliament to recognise the bushfire crisis when it resumes next month.
He said he has written to the prime minister to ask for the first sitting day to include a motion of condolence to recognise the 26 deaths, as well as people who’ve lost their homes and fire fighters.