Victoria’s emergency services are bracing for a new fire threat tomorrow, with dangerous hot and windy conditions forecast for the west of the state which has so far remained relatively untouched this fire season.
- Total fire bans have been declared in the central and western districts
- Authorities are particularly concerned about new fires starting
- Grassfires expected to move faster than a person can run
A total fire ban has been declared for all six of the central and western fire districts, with the fire danger rating reaching “severe” in five regions and “extreme” in the Mallee.
The forecast is for temperatures to reach the mid-30s on the northern plains, with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warning of wind speeds up to 70kph and gusts up to 90kph.
A wind change is expected to reach western Victoria during the afternoon and extend eastwards during the evening.
Grass fires the main concern
At a briefing this afternoon, Country Fire Authority chief officer Steve Warrington said new fires starting in the Mallee region and the grassy areas on the western side of Melbourne were of particular concern.
Mr Warrington said while Victoria’s emergency services had primarily been dealing with bushfires so far this fire season, the main threat tomorrow would be grassfires.
“In that area around Ballarat as you go into Melbourne, where we have a very dry grass, the strong winds, the high temperatures and certainly thunderstorms ahead of the change as well, new [fire] starts are a concern for us tomorrow,” he said.
“We believe that tomorrow we will struggle to extinguish a running grass fire at the height of those winds and that’s why we’ve put a total fire ban in to try and stop those starts occurring in the first place.
“But if they do, we’ll do everything we can to make sure we get on top of them as quick as we can.”
A grassfire that triggered an emergency warning at Pastoria, east of Kyneton, on Sunday night was an example of the kind of threat authorities were concerned about, he said.
“At the moment we’re noticing fire behaviours that are quite extreme,” he said.
Mr Warrington said the fires were expected to move at speeds between 7kph and 10kph.
“The reality is that’s faster than a person can run,” he said.
‘Merry-go-round’ of weather
BOM senior meteorologist Kevin Parkyn said it had been a “merry-go-round” of weather over the past few days going from fires to storms, floods and giant hail.
Mr Parkyn said that on the back of that eventful 48 hours of weather, Victoria was bracing for a return to an elevated fire danger across the western and central districts due to hot, dry, northerly winds preceding the wind change.
“The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for damaging wind gusts and those winds will start intensifying from Wednesday morning and maintain their intensity through the course of the day ahead of a wind change,” Mr Parkyn said.
“The other curve ball is thunderstorm activity, which is always a risk when we’ve got a dry landscape, like we do have in parts of western Victoria, which could see more fire starts.”
He said the forecast maximum temperature for Melbourne tomorrow was 32 degrees Celsius, with the maximum across the Northern Plains reaching into the mid-30s.
“So hot, dry, windy weather ahead of a change that’ll move through and ultimately bring some more rainfall across the state, which I’m sure will be well received,” he said.
Gippsland fires largely contained
Mr Warrington said following recent rains the fires in the Gippsland and north-east areas were largely contained.
“There are certainly active fires within those fires and we’ve got good breaks around those and we’ll continue to build those breaks in and around there,” he said.
He said the authorities were concerned the Pastoria fire could jump containment lines, but existing fires were not the main concern.
“New starts in unprepared communities are the biggest risk,” he said.
“If communities are not prepared for a fire, whether they live or die, whether their property is saved or not saved is very much dependent upon the decisions people make right now.
“We’re giving you the warning that it is extreme and severe conditions tomorrow in those areas.”