More heat looms: experts' ominous forecast

EXTREME fire danger days are expected every week until the end of summer, weather experts have warned.

The ominous forecast comes after it took a week to contain the massive Kentbruck fire in the south-west which burnt out nearly 12,000 hectares.

While the region’s firefighters were last night relieved yesterday’s total fire ban passed without any new outbreaks, they will be on edge until the end of next month.

Bureau of Meteorology Victorian spokesman David Morrison said days of very high fire danger were predicted every four days to a week for the rest of summer.

Mr Morrison said there was “a pretty good chance” that next Thursday and Friday would be days of extreme fire danger.

He said Victoria was presently stuck in a pattern of hot weather that intermittent low-pressure systems had not been able to break up. 

“There’s a lot of heat still in the system for the rest of summer,” Mr Morrison said.

He said the state appeared to have moved away from the wet summers of the past two years.

Warrnambool was wreathed  in grey yesterday morning as south-westerly winds spread smoke from the Kentbruck fires across the region.

A heavy haze drifted over the city about 10am after a wind change swept through the fire area an hour earlier.

The smoke and smell of burnt vegetation prompted a few calls from concerned residents at Mailors Flat and Hexham who were worried there was a fire near them.

A media spokesman for the fire control centre at Heywood, Chris Clugston, said extensive firebreaks that had been quickly established during the week enabled the fire to be contained yesterday despite the wind change from northerly to south-westerly.

The fire began last Friday and burnt 11,890 hectares, the blackened area expanding on Thursday by about 4500 hectares as the result of a huge back-burning operation.

Mr Clugston said most of the firefighters were stood down yesterday and only about 50 patrolled containment lines.

That number is a dramatic drop from the more than 750 who were deployed to battle the fire in a 24-hour operation earlier in the week.

The huge operation prevented any homes from being lost.

Most of the area burnt has been native vegetation in rough terrain in the Lower Glenelg National Park but the damage toll has included 1200 hectares of pine plantation and blue gum plantation.

Mr Clugston said many Country Fire Authority volunteers returned to their home brigades throughout Victoria yesterday to be ready if there was a fire in their areas.

“There has been a big effort from a lot of volunteers which is greatly appreciated,” Mr Clugston said.

He said a total of about 80 personnel remained in the area yesterday to keep the fire contained and firefighters were likely to continue mopping up for another week.

“We are still consolidating those containment lines.”

Aircraft also flew over the fire area yesterday to spot any outbreaks.

Mr Clugston said the next significant fire day was likely to be Tuesday when temperatures and winds were forecast to increase.

He said an information officer would be at the Dartmoor General Store from 11am-1pm today to provide up-to-date information to the public about the fire.

Warrnambool City Council senior environmental health officer Mark Handby said residents should take appropriate precautions with the increasing presence of smoke across the region. 

“Bushfire smoke can reduce air quality and may affect people’s health,” Mr Handby said. 

“Children, the elderly and people with pre-existing illnesses such as heart or lung conditions including asthma are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke

“We recommend avoiding physical activity outdoors, keeping away from the smoke, switching airconditioners to recirculate and those with asthma should follow their asthma plan.

Mr Handby said if anybody was experiencing smoke related symptoms they should seek medical advice.

Further information contact the Victorian Bushfire Information Line 1800 240 667 or www.cfa.vic.gov.au

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