SEVERAL fires yesterday set the nerves of district police and emergency services on edge ahead of today’s forecast extreme danger and 40-degree scorcher.
Two hectares owned by Moyne Shire mayor Jim Doukas were blackened by one outbreak.
Three of yesterday’s fires — the first at Warrnambool’s Coghlans Road, a second at Sims Road, Mailors Flat, and another on the nearby Yarpturk School Road, Mailors Flat — are being treated as suspicious, with members of the criminal investigation unit attending.
The first two started about midday, while the third was reported about 4.15pm.
A total fire ban has been declared across Victoria today and the south-west region’s risk rating is extreme.
Extra aircraft and resources have been allocated to combat any emergencies.
Last year, several fires were thought to have been deliberately lit in the Mailors Flat and Koroit areas.
Firefighters are again urging local residents to be vigilant and police were highly visible yesterday interviewing witnesses and neighbours in the vicinity of the three blazes.
Warrnambool detectives remained tight-lipped but a spokeswoman for Victoria Police confirmed police were treating the Mailors Flat blaze as suspicious.
She said about four hectares had been burnt out.
Cr Doukas was under no illusions about the fire on his property.
“Somebody has definitely done it,” he told The Standard yesterday.
Fire crews spent 30 minutes extinguishing the Coghlans Road fire, which consumed about 1.2 hectares of grassland.
“It’s suspicious as it’s started on the side of the road,” Warrnambool CFA station officer Greg Kincross said. Fire investigators examined the fence line where the fire is thought to have started.
“People should remain vigilant at this time of the year and keep an eye out for suspicious activity,” Mr Kincross said.
A Warrnambool City Council grader was yesterday used to create an earth break.
The fire on the Doukas property is thought to have started in several hay bales inside a paddock just metres from the road.
Country Fire Authority crews cut through a fence to fight the flames.
Five crews from Bushfield, Koroit, Winslow and Warrnambool had the blaze under control shortly after arriving, while a Moyne Shire water tanker was also called in to assist. A front-end loader was brought in by a nearby farmer to dismantle the bales to prevent them from smouldering.
Neighbour Glen Sharp said he dialled triple-zero after seeing the flames across the road from his home.
“I was out the back of the house and heard a cackling noise that sounded like a sprinkler,” Mr Sharp said.
“I just heard the fire burning. I thought to report it straight away.
“I didn’t see any vehicles or any traffic.”
He said he saw the first flames leap up from the bales.
Three police detectives arrived at the scene to speak to witnesses, while police closed the road to traffic.
Cr Doukas, who watched on from Sims Road,said he received a phone call telling him the fire was burning.
“I just got a phone call saying there was a fire in the paddock,” he said.
“I’m thankful it didn’t burn towards the house or into Mailors Flat.”
The CFA advised residents in high risk areas to activate their bush fire plans ahead of today’s total fire ban.