Ongoing burn

Ongoing burn

The bushfires in East Gippsland have so far burnt out around one million hectares of land and fire officials warn that the fires will continue to burn for some time to come.

Extremely dry conditions have fuelled the fires through the region’s national parks and across public and private land.

Thick undergrowth in the forests has resulted in the fires burning wildly, creating an uncontrollable inferno as its blazes across the landscape, decimating communities.

Fire crews still have 1500 kilometres of fire edge to get around and contain and have pleaded with the community for patience as all available resources battle the ongoing fires.

About 1000 firefighters are working to contain the fire, including putting out hot spots and burning logs which have the potential to flare up.

Emergency Commissioner, Andrew Crisp, speaking in Bairnsdale last week, warned that the fires would continue to burn, mostly likely for the rest of summer.

“You will not stop these fires. When you start to get fire danger ratings up into that extreme area, fires are fast moving, they’re uncontrollable, they’re unpredictable,” he said.

“You’re not going to put these fires out quickly, that’s the fact. Nature started these fires, it’s going to be nature that stops these fires.”

Commissioner Crisp’s comments were on Monday reiterated by Bairnsdale’s Incident Controller, Brett Mitchell, who said the dryness of the landscape would ensure the fires burned well into March.

“The recent rainfall will slow the activity but as the conditions dry out the fire activity will increase so we could be in this for an extended period given it’s only January,” Mr Mitchell said.

Rain began falling in fire-affected communities on Sunday, bringing respite to the previous scorching conditions that had fuelled the blazes.

Mr Mitchell conceded the rain had subsided fire activity, but several Watch and Act warnings remained in places such as Swifts Creek, Omeo, Mount Hotham, Cann River and Bonang.

“The rain has put the fire in a holding pattern for a couple of days, but strong northerly winds with a southerly change will ensure Friday is shaping up to be a spike day for us,” Mr Mitchell said.

The adverse weather conditions also grounded intelligence gathering aircraft from assessing the fire situation.

More than 25 communities in East Gippsland, including Mallacoota, Cann River and Genoa, still remain isolated with Forest Fire Management Victoria officials unable to collate an accurate picture of dwellings destroyed and assistance required for those residing within them.

A number of communities are still without power, although generators have been sent to some townships accessible by road.

“It’s unsafe for any of our crews to go into some of these areas until hazardous trees are removed, so we’ve got machinery and the Army working on some of those segments at the moment,” Mr Mitchell said.

Aircraft were on Monday able to make airdrops of water and essential supplies into Genoa, which has been cut off for more than a week.

On Sunday, 407 people were evacuated by air from Mallacoota, including 122 children and 23 infants.

This was completed during 18 flights over the course of the day, involving the Royal Australian Air Force’s Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters.

The HMAS Choules was involved in taking others stranded in the coastal resort out by sea to Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula last Thursday.

While in Omeo, aircraft landed on the local football oval to evacuate about 50-60 people on Saturday afternoon as the fires edged closer to the High Country community.

While two people have been confirmed dead in the East Gippsland fires, authorities say there are no longer any missing people in the region, with earlier figures of 28 people unaccounted for having been found.

IMAGE: The fires have destroyed more than 100 homes and outbuildings across East Gippsland, although authorities say that toll could rise as they reach more isolated communities. Pictured is the remains of a Sarsfield house burnt to the ground on December 30. K1565-3467