Dunkeld on edge as fires merge to create massive front

DUNKELD district residents were on edge last night as three bushfires merged to create a huge front heading south towards the town.

Main tourist routes into the southern portion of the Grampians were closed and by late in the afternoon the fire front had reached the Victoria Valley Road, less than 30 kilometres from Dunkeld.

About 300 firefighters using dozens of vehicles and 14 aircraft were battling to control flames fanned by a strong north-westerly wind ahead of a south-westerly change expected late last night.

Earlier in the day, emergency alerts were issued for residents of Mirranatwa and Victoria Valley as thick smoke from two large fronts blanketed their homes and temperatures hovered in the high 30s. 

By 5pm, those blazes had merged with a third and spot fires were breaking out a kilometre ahead of the main front.

It was estimated at 3260 hectares in size.

However, firefighters from the CFA and government departments managed to save buildings and livestock in its path.

More than 200 people overflowed the Dunkeld Bowls Club late in the day to hear emergency services leaders provide an update.

According to Southern Grampians Shire mayor Cr Albert Calvano, residents were assured they were safe.

“There’s really no danger to Dunkeld,” he said. “Everything that can be done is being done by the emergency services.

“Their main priority is to protect lives, livestock and property, and as far as I know none have been lost.

“We’ve sent four graders, a fuel tanker and a water tanker and set up a co-ordination centre.”

Smoke and soot from the fires, many of which were started by lightning late last week, drifted as far south as Warrnambool where residents awoke to an eerie cloud pattern and bright orange sunrise.

Police from Warrnambool, Portland and Hamilton assisted with road closures and Southern Grampians Shire Council co-ordinated municipal response assistance.

Parks Victoria said north and central sections remained open and safe, but advised visitors not to go overnight walking and campers to stay only in designated areas.

Police incident control officer Senior Sergeant Steve Thompson, of Warrnambool, said the main Victoria Valley Road was closed from Grampians Tourist Road to Victoria Point Road along with the Victoria Point and Mokanger roads.

Park access from Cavendish to Glenisia Crossing was also closed. A number of walking tracks, campgrounds and climbing areas in the Victoria Range and Red Rock areas were also off-limits.

The merged fires were from Jensens Road, Clutterbucks Road and Burnt Hut Track.

More than 20 other fires have been burning for days in the national park, mostly sparked by lightning, but most posed no threat to private properties or visitors.

Meanwhile, staff at the Heywood incident control centre co-ordinated efforts to contain five fires about 10 kilometres south-east of Edenhope in a mixture of state park, pine plantations and private farmland.

A separate fire at Dergholm on the Dergholm-Edenhope Road had burnt 117ha, but was contained.

Further east fire crews were still mopping up a grassfire that started on Hasties Road Kariah near Camperdown on Saturday. Another small fire at Irrewillipe, near Colac, was contained. 

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