Extreme heat forecast sparks grassfire alert

WITH a scorching 40 degrees predicted for Thursday across the south-west, fire authorities have ramped up warnings of looming summer dangers with lush long grass quickly turning to a tinder box.

“Farmers across the region are saying they’ve never seen grass growth like this,” CFA south-west regional director Bob Barry told The Standard yesterday.

“It’s an extremely alarming situation for us.

“A couple of severe, hot days will bring us into extreme fire danger risk by early January.

“Every person who travels on our rural roads could be in a position where they face a wildfire — people shouldn’t be complacent.”

His renewed warning came as the state government launched an updated FireReady application for smartphones and a new website for emergency information.

“If you see suspicious activity report it and if you see visitors heading towards dangerous situations, warn them.”

According to the government and CFA, the new app can serve a million users and issue up to 2.4 million instant alerts a minute.

Mr Barry said alerts on phones and computers had proven an effective communications tool and he had personal experience of their value when holidaying in the Blue Mountains during bushfires recently.

“I was constantly reviewing the fires via my phone,” he said.

Grassland in south-west coastal districts is about 40 per cent cured, while inland is up to 70 per cent.

“After days like Thursday the curing rate will rise rapidly,” Mr Barry said.

“Under the right conditions the speed of grass fire can be really intense and hard to judge.

“There can be spot fires six to eight kilometres in front.

“If you see smoke on the horizon don’t head in that direction.

“My message to people living in the path of a fire is — leave early.

“If you see suspicious activity report it and if you see visitors heading towards dangerous situations, warn them.”

Official fire danger periods across Warrnambool City and the shires of Moyne, Glenelg and Southern Grampians will come into force on December 23 and remain until May.

In Corangamite and Colac Otway shires the danger period was declared on December 1.

Anyone who lights an open fire during the restriction period without a permit can be liable to heavy fines or prison.

Mr Barry said the opportunity for property owners to burn rubbish had almost closed and people should be vigilant in clearing fire hazards.

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