Watch and wait

Watch and wait

Rain brought welcome relief to firefighters battling three out of control fires in East Gippsland yesterday.

Until the rain, fire crews were having a hard time attempting to get the upper hand on unpredictable fires burning near Bruthen, Ensay and W Tree.

All were started by dry lightning late last week.

The largest bushfire 10 kilometres east of W Tree closed the Gelantipy Road and arrived at the door of SIBA Retreat early on Tuesday morning.

Ross McCann, of Sale, who was staying at the Buddhist Centre told the News he was up all night “running around putting out little sparks” at the centre, which lost a small cabin to the bushfires.

Mr McCann, who was alone at SIBA, except for a CFA and DELWP crew, said the fire “came in from the north burning all the bush behind SIBA.”

“It came right through to the cabins and we’ve lost cabin five.”

Mr McCann said bush between SIBA and the nearby Ontos organic farm also burnt but Fred Koch managed to save his property.

Julia Delany who lives with her husband, Ian, on a property adjoining the Detarka Reserve at W Tree, said she was awake all night as the fires swept through.

“It was horrific, but we’re safe,” she told the News.

Mrs Delany described watching “winds of fire from falling embers” from her verandah.

“The fire crews were amazing, they managed to put out a lot of spot fires and thankfully everyone is safe,” she said.

“God willing the rain will dampen things.”

The fire at W Tree had burnt out 6800 hectares at midday yesterday. Two other bushfires were also still out of control at the time of going to print, forcing the closure of the Great Alpine Road (GAR). A bushfire, 14kmeast of Ensay, had closed the GAR between Ensay and Engineers Road intersection.

Residents say conditions in Ensay are exceptionally dry with the bush not having burnt since 1939.

So far, 3500 hectares has been burnt.

Meantime, a fire near Bruthen had resulted in alerts for Bruthen, Buchan South, Callinans, Double Bridges, Nowa Nowa and Ramrod Creek.

That fire has so far scorched across 5500 hectares.

Bruthen residents have been on tenterhooks the last few days, closely monitoring the fires.

While some took it in their stride, the fire, which covered the township in thick smoke on Sunday and Monday night was a reminder of the importance of being fire ready.

Sue Svetlik and Mick Bentley, who run the Equine Facilitated Learning Program for kids with special needs, came home from Bairnsdale on Thursday afternoon and looked out over the mountains at a fire.

“I turned on the radio and one fire was five kilometres away and the other nine kilometres out,” Ms Svetlik said.

“There was another also out at Mossiface so we were pretty well surrounded by fires.”

“That’s when we started to think crikey, we haven’t done any preparation.”

The couple has been tidying up since Saturday, cleaning spoutings and clearing around their sheds.

Ms Svetlik said getting rid of some stale hay laying around that the horses had refused to eat had been problematic.

“Unfortunately, it was stale when we bought it,” Ms Svetlik said, explaining that sourcing good quality hay during the drought had been a real issue.

She said four years of dry had produced a lot of dead litter. 

“The trees have dropped everything, it’s a big job. I wished we’d started earlier, rather than leaving it to the last minute,” Ms Svetlik conceded.

The couple has set up hoses around the property and have been busy organising tap connectors, sprinklers and fire pumps.

The couple’s main concern should fire reach the property is their 14 horses.

“They’ve eaten out everything, so if the fire did come our way it’s pretty much dirt,” Ms Svetlik said.

Mr Bentley nods in agreement. “The horses have flogged it out around here, there’s not much left to burn,” he said.

“Our biggest concern would be ash dropping.”

Mr Bentley said it was unlikely “to be a raging fire front like you see on television”.

The couple plans to load the horses into a truck and head to the beach.

“Make a beeline for the beach or head to a friend’s place is the plan,” Ms Svetlik said.

She said Mick and her son, Zac, would most likely stay at the property to fight embers.

Fire authorities were warning on Monday that the fires were spotting burning embers, which can be carried by the wind.

“Hopefully, they won’t come our way,” Ms Svetlik said staring across the dry paddocks.

“At the moment the wind direction is favourable.”

The couple, who has been in Bruthen for 20 years, said they were reassured by the locals who said not to panic.

Ms Svetlik said while fire had threatened the property in the past, they had always been saved by a wind change and the fire turning back on itself.

From Bruthen township, the fire and thick smoke could be seen swirling in the distance.

Local mechanic, Rick Mehlert, had a prime viewing spot from his garage on the corner of the Great Alpine Road and Princes Highway.

“I’ve been watching it for a while,” he told the News on Monday.

Mr Mehlert said “a few of the locals are up there fighting it and I have no doubt they’ll do a good job of handling it”.

Emergency Management Victoria incident controller, Peter Brick, says he expects all fires to continue to grow.

Mr Brick says East Gippslanders can expect to see smoke in the weeks to come and advises everybody to prepare their properties for what could be potentially worsening conditions over the coming months.

“There’s no point preparing your property once a watch and act alert has been issued, it’s too late then,” Mr Brick said.

PICTURED: The view of the Bruthen fire from McKayʼs Road, Tambo Upper, on Monday. (Photo: Imogen Williams)


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