Authorities on edge as heat and wind hits district

FIRE authorities across the south-west are on edge with the region facing scorching temperatures and strong winds forecast for tomorrow and early next week.

Officially it has the state’s highest risk rated as extreme and has been allocated extra aircraft and on-ground resources.

CFA chief officer Euan Ferguson warned that if a large grass fire took hold it could be unstoppable.

Temperatures as high as 41 in Casterton and 40 for Colac, Hamilton and Port Fairy are predicted for tomorrow with northerly wind gusts of up to 60 kilometres an hour before a southerly change with gusts up to 30km/h.

Then more hot weather into the high 30s and 40s is forecast from Monday through to Wednesday.

The Department of Health has warned of heatwave conditions which could prove fatal for the aged and infants.

Hamilton-based regional CFA  officer Steve Giddens said flame height could reach 32 metres and spot fires could break out more than 4km ahead of a moving front.

“We have four fire bombers within short flying range and an Erikson helicopter at Ballarat, if needed, plus fixed-wing aircraft to do intelligence flights,” he said.

“We have set up incident control centres at Warrnambool, Hamilton and Heywood.”

Last night, about 50 firefighters using 11 trucks, an aircraft and bulldozer were working to contain a blaze at Purrumbete in farmland on the Stony Rises. 

Colac-based regional   officer Michael Crutchfield said the goal was to form an earth boundary around the fire before extreme weather conditions hit.

“Accessibility is limited in this country and if a major fire took hold it would be very hard to extinguish,” he said.

Earlier in the day sharp-eyed motorists raised the alarm to avert a potential fire disaster near Cudgee.

Local brigade captain Stuart Drake said there were several 000 calls reporting the fire beside Hopkins Falls Road, east of the Hopkins Highway, shortly after midday.

The fire was out in about 20 minutes, saving farmland.

“The roadside grass was at least half a metre tall on a steep embankment that was hard to reach,” Mr Drake said.

Authorities have expressed annoyance at people not listening to warnings about campfires and using farm machinery in hot dry weather.

Since Christmas, crews have attended almost 20 fires started by campers. CFA district four operations officer Peter Novotny said people should ensure that campfires were extinguished.

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