District under fire

DARTMOOR district residents were on edge last night as a huge forest fire continued uncontrolled through pine plantations and the Lower Glenelg National Park.

A joint statement from the Department of Sustainability and Environt with the CFA this morning said the Kentbruck- Portland Nelson road area fire was estimated to be 7050 hectares in size and active at both the northern and southern ends.

"There are 400 people on the fire ground at present and approximately 70 people in the IMT, from plantation personnel, CFA and DSE and CFS," the statement said. 

"There are another 250 resting to come on-line tonight. In addition, six graders, seven dozers and 10 aircraft are supporting control efforts.

"In an effort to consolidate and hold containment lines, DSE along with the CFA, CFS and Plantation Industry conducted strategic back burning operations to the south of Drik Drik overnight, with approximately eight kilometres burnt out."

With a south-west wind change expected this morning, further works on control lines have also been conducted throughout the night using dozers to build mineral earth breaks.

The Portland Nelson Road will re-open later Tuesday morning with speed restrictions in place. 

The Winnap Nelson Road and Post Office Road will remain closed until further notice.

Late yesterday, a south-westerly wind change pushed the front towards Drik Drik less than 10 kilometres from Dartmoor.

Embers were drifting over homes and sheds in the farming hamlet late yesterday as authorities scaled up their emergency response with fire crews rallying to protect up to 10 homes under threat.

Nearby Mumbannar residents were on emergency alert.

Police were despatched to check on the safety of isolated and vulnerable residents. 

About 300 firefighters are battling to control the blaze on several fronts which is expected to burn for several days. 

An extra 100 firefighters were being sent to the area.

Deputy incident controller Andy Cusack was worried about people ignoring roadblocks.

“We’re concerned about people going past road closed signs and putting themselves at risk. We’re concerned about people on the river that we may not able to contact, canoeists and so forth,” he said.

Earlier in the day, an easterly wind pushed the fire towards Nelson and at one stage was only eight kilometres from the popular coastal tourist town which had a large evacuation of tourists during the weekend.

However, residents were relieved to see the wind change turn the fire front away. 

So far, about 4200 hectares has been burnt since Friday when a fire started beside the Portland-Nelson Road. 

Firefighters have been hampered by several wind changes with yesterday’s conditions swinging from a morning easterly to an afternoon northerly and a later westerly.

More than 200 people crowded into the Dartmoor community hall for a morning briefing by emergency services leaders who outlined the fire danger and control efforts.

“A sense of uncertainty is in the community,” Dartmoor Progress Association leader Wendy Dowling told The Standard.

“There’s a real worry here, I can tell you. They were saying at the meeting that anyone with ill health needed to make the decision to leave by tonight.

“Farmers were warned to think about moving stock and people were told to instigate their fire plan. This town has had enough blows in the past few years and certainly doesn’t need another one.”

Residents will be given an update at the community hall from 11am today.

Earlier in the day, Drik Drik farmers Greg Holmes and Peter Holmes were watching the fire front closely and had already moved their cattle to accessible evacuation points.

“They won’t be able to get a good attack on the fire until it comes out of the rugged areas into clear country,” Peter Holmes said.

Forestry company HVP Plantations has lost a considerable portion of its radiata pine holdings in the Kentbruck area west of Portland. Company spokesman Cameron MacDonald told The Standard they were good quality stands about 10 years old. 

“Wind changes have been making life difficult for firefighters,” he said.

He said the company’s assets were part of an estimated 1000 hectares of commercial plantations valued about $2m destroyed by the Portland district fires.

Mr MacDonald said HVP grew about 20,000 hectares in the south-west and has about 160,000 in total holdings.

pcollins@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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