No time for complacency as weather brings fire relief

DARTMOOR residents are breathing a temporary sigh of relief after a monster fire tearing through national park and pine plantations was slowed yesterday by cooler conditions and rain. 

Today emergency services hope to make further inroads against the out-of-control blaze ahead of more hot weather predicted for the coming days. 

As the fire enters it sixth day crews are still locked in a stalemate with the inferno, which has burnt through 7000 hectares of forest. 

Yesterday, embers picked up by the wind drifted north over the Glenelg River, starting spot fires on properties and plantations near the farming district of Drik Drik — less than 15 minutes south of Dartmoor. 

Despite improvements in the weather emergency services are warning residents not to be complacent, with hotter temperatures expected to fan flames on Friday. 

Department of Environment and Sustainability (DSE) deputy incident controller Andy Cusack gave a frank assessment of the battle to regain control of the forests. 

“It will still be several days before we get on top of this fire,” Mr Cusack said.

“The fire is still rated as going and is currently 7000 hectares — we expect it to be bigger than that before we’re finished with it.”

A community information point has been established at the Dartmoor Rural Transaction Centre on Greenham Street from today until Friday, operating between 11am and 1pm with DSE staff on site to provide updates. 

Graders dug containment lines throughout properties and around Dartmoor during the day. 

More than 400 firefighters have been locked in a frustrating campaign, with steep terrain preventing some crews from reaching parts of the fire. 

Up to 50 firetrucks and 65 support vehicles from all over Victoria are now involved in the battle. 

Billowing smoke from the forests also restricted helicopter and aircraft water bombers. 

Late yesterday crews welcomed light drizzle, which slowed the flames. 

But Mr Cusack said the rain had delayed critical back- burning efforts needed to contain the fire. 

“We probably can’t back- burn and it still leaves us with this fire that could go off in a few days. We could be back to where we were.” Temperatures are expected to rise towards 30 degrees on Friday. 

Several roads opened yesterday morning, including the Portland-Nelson Road, while the Winnap-Nelson Road remained closed to traffic. 

Motorists are advised to drive to the conditions and with their headlights on. 

“It’s getting better every day but we’ve got this balancing act ... we don’t want to lull people into thinking that its OK, there is a lot of fire,” Mr Cusack said. 

Firefighters are still optimistic the fire will gain a foothold in the open where it can be more easily fought. 

Speaking metres from a burning cliff face on the Glenelg River, CFA strike team leader Paul Buck said crews had spent much of the day responding to tentacles of flame that lunged out of the main fire towards Drik Drik. 

“It is a frustration, you can’t get to the edge of the fire so it’s just a waiting scenario ... it’s the nature of the terrain. 

“We’ve just got to keep an eye on it and stop it getting into farmers’ paddocks,” he said. 

A strong southerly wind sent a steady stream of embers to the foothills of a property. 

“It’s been doing it the last couple of days,” he said. 

Crews nearby doused hay bales in foam. 

Strike teams from South Australia and crews from HVP Plantations also provided much-needed support. 

The DSE is advising residents seeking information on the incident to contact Victorian Bushfire Information Line on freecall 1800 240 667 or gp to www.cfa.vic.gov.au.

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