A fire was burning out-of-control on French Island at Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula on late Saturday as firefighters backburned around the northern edge of a separate 90,000ha fire in Victoria’s alpine region.
On Saturday evening an emergency warning – the highest alert level – was issued for the French Island blaze at Ridge Track, which was travelling south towards McLeods Road.
People in the area were told leaving immediately and heading towards the Tankerton Pier was the safest option, before conditions became too dangerous.
“Emergency Services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay,” the warning read.
About 130 firefighters from the Country Fire Authority and Forest Fire Management Victoria were also working on the Abbeyard fire in the alpine region near Bright, after warnings to the communities of Nug Nug and Buffalo River were downgraded from an emergency alert to a watch and act alert in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Other communities around the north-western edge of the fire, from Dandongadale to Porepunkah to the Buckland Valley, were warned to be on high alert for changes in wind speed and direction that could cause an increase in fire activity on Saturday afternoon but no new evacuation warnings were issued.
A spokesman for the Victorian State Control Centre said spotfires were reported in the Buffalo Valley overnight and crews were performing asset protection, but there was no confirmation that any private property was damaged. The bulk of the fire remained on public land.
“Last night and today our crews have continued to try and work at any backburning and burning out of the fire’s edge,” the spokesman said.
Crews from the Australian defence force were clearing dangerous trees from roads and fire tracks around Cheshunt, Carboor and Rose River.
The historic Buffalo Chalet, which sits at the top of 300m high cliffs in the Mount Buffalo national park, has so far been saved from damage. The most historic – and portable – artefacts were removed from the chalet some days ago and fire retardant has been dropped around the building as part of a critical asset protection plan enacted by state firefighting authorities.
In East Gippsland, emergency services led a convoy of three dozen civilian cars from the Victorian town of Mallacoota to Eden, which is about 60km north over the border with New South Wales.
Mallacoota has been cut off by road since 30 December, when fires first threatened the town, and authorities have warned that the roads may not be reopened to unescorted traffic for weeks while army personnel clear dangerous trees from the burned-out forest which overhangs the bitumen.
People stranded in East Gippsland have been warned they could face a $250 fine for driving on a closed road to get supplies, even if the fire is no longer active in the area.
Residents of the small town of Noorinbee told the Age they were running out of food, fodder and other supplies but had been told by police that they were not allowed to drive to their nearest supply drop-off point in Cann River, which is less than 7km away.
The smoke haze that made the air quality in Melbourne “the worst in the world” on Monday, and caused coughing fits among tennis players at the Australian Open, had mostly lifted in the CBD but was still hanging around the bay.
The air quality in Melbourne and most of the state was rated as good to moderate on Saturday by the Environment Protection Authority but a statewide air quality warning remained in place. In East Gippsland it was moderate to poor, and poor to very poor in the north-east.
The air quality in Greater Sydney, lower Hunter and the Illawarra remained poor.
The NSW Rural Fire Service said firefighters were making the most of “benign conditions” to control 75 active fires, of which 25 are yet to be contained.
That rain also skipped the most recently fire-affected areas of NSW, including the south coast and the border region near Albury.
Falls of up to 15mm were recorded in parts of East Gippsland early in the week but other areas received only a few millimetres.