The island is now covered by an ‘advice’ warning, with VicEmergency stating there is currently no threat to communities but residents are encouraged to monitor conditions.
SCC state response controller Alistair Drayton said airbombers were vital in subduing the spread of fire on French Island, as fire trucks had to be carried across on barges which could only hold two vehicles at a time.
“The damage could well have been much greater than it was, given the quite incredible fire behaviour. At one point there was six aircraft working on the fire,” he said.
“The importance of the ability of air attack is so critical in these sorts of circumstances in difficult terrain or locations.
“It’s a 30 minute round-trip from one side to the other, the ferry can only take one large and one small truck, so it was a matter of timing. I remember looking at one stage, and there was eight vehicles waiting at for the ferry.”
Mr Drayton said it was hoped the fire would be fully contained by early afternoon. Six fire trucks remain on the island, working on containment lines.
There are significant populations of chlamydia-free koalas and bandicoot which live in the island’s national park. Authorities will be entering the fireground to assess wildlife losses as soon as it is safe to do so.
The bushfire travelled from Ridge Track in a westerly direction towards Mt Wellington Road.
Campers had to be evacuated from walking trails by Parks Victoria.
Brent Le Serve, who part-owns the French Island General Store, said the island is 70 per cent bush and hasn’t had a big fire for 30 or 40 years.
“There’s a lot of fuel on the ground,” he said.
He said the work of the barge transporting CFA trucks from the mainland to French Island was made more diffcult because a very low tide occurred when the fire broke out.
Water bombers worked tirelessly for more than four hours from 2pm, with the first truck arriving at 5pm. Mr Le Serve said he watched the fire on Saturday night until it was downgraded in severity, and without the water bombers, the fire wouldn’t have been contained so quickly.
French Island is known for its strong koala population, which is sometimes used to repopulate other areas because of its chlamydia-free status. Around 119 people live on the island year-round.
Severe thunderstorms and heavy rain are on the way for central and north eastern parts of Victoria and are expected to hit on Sunday evening, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s duty forecaster Tom Fejes.
Some isolated areas of Victoria could get as much as 70 millimetres of rain, creating concerns about potential flash flooding.
“There will be quite heavy rainfall, and there’s a risk we’ll see that move over the Melbourne region,” Mr Fejes said.
He noted that lightening would likely occur in areas getting decent downpours of rain, reducing the potential for strikes on dry bush which could ignite suddenly.
SCC’s Mr Drayton noted there were very real concerns about flash flooding again on Sunday, but there are hopes heavy rainfall will hit areas where fires are still burning.
“Potentially areas are going to receive 50mm plus today, and that’s the type of rainfall required for it to have any affect on the fireground,” he said.
“There are risks of flash flooding, particularly in areas already affected by fire, where the vegetation has been removed. Debris and rocks can move into creeks and waterways, so there could be flash-flooding downstream from these areas.
“We’re asking people to be vigilant and when travelling to unfamiliar areas, drive to conditions.”
A State Control Centre spokesman said that heavy rainfall expected on Sunday afternoon was the “main concern”, with thunderstorms likely to be slow moving, bringing damaging winds and hail.
“Rain is an issue in terms of making tracks slippery, but with storms there’s also the possibility of lightening strikes, and especially in areas it hasn’t rained on already, that has the potential to start new fires,” he said.
French Island is Victoria’s largest island and is only accessible via the barge or a passenger ferry that run from Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula and Cowes at nearby Phillip Island.
The roads on the island are dirt tracks. There are no police and many of the vehicles are unregistered. It is also known for being free of introduced animals, such as foxes.
Fifteen fires were burning across the state on Sunday morning.
So far, bushfires have burnt through more than 1.5 million hectares in Victoria, damaged 387 homes and 602 non-residential buildings. Five men have died during Victoria’s fires.
With Tom Cowie, Tate Papworth
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com