Man badly burnt when wind gust changes blaze direction

A COLERAINE man was in a critical condition last night after suffering serious burns during the worst fire to hit the area in 25 years. John Smeets, 40, was helping a landholder move livestock away from the blaze when a wind change suddenly left him in the path of the fire about 2pm on Saturday.Mr Smeets' wife of 18 years, Lorraine, said he was rushed to Western District Health Service at Hamilton before being flown to The Alfred hospital at 10pm."He's in a critical condition at the moment with burns to 50 per cent of his body and he's been put on a respirator," an emotional Mrs Smeets said. Mr Smeets, who works at Vickery Brothers fertiliser suppliers, underwent four hours of surgery and yesterday was in an induced coma in the intensive care unit. The 770-hectare blaze a few kilometres north-west of Coleraine claimed an uninhabited house, a hayshed, several haystacks and fences and also injured livestock. More than 230 CFA personnel worked to contain the blaze with 43 fire trucks, one bulldozer and two aerial water bombers.Firefighters fought to save the home of Premier John Brumby's parents which was threatened in the blaze. Coleraine brigade member David Deutscher was one of the first to arrive at the fire which started near the corner of Balochile Road and the Glenelg Highway about 12.30pm. Mr Deutscher said crews were able to save six homes which were threatened by the blaze, but an old, uninhabited house was destroyed. "It was just on the fringes of Coleraine in the Cypress trees," Mr Deutscher said.He said flames reached up to 30 metres high at one stage. The trees on one side of the Glenelg Highway, which formed part of the town's Avenue of Honour, were also destroyed. The CFA downgraded its alert for the Coleraine fire at 6pm. Another fire, 39 kilometres west of Casterton, near the South Australian border, also kept fire crews busy.A five-hectare grass fire on the Caramut-Purdeet Road was contained by 1pm. Lightning sparked another fire yesterday in the Grampians National Park but it posed no threat to local communities. The work continued for volunteers yesterday, with more than 100 personnel and 20 trucks sent to Gippsland to fight the Churchill blaze, while another team was sent Alexandra in the state's north-east, CFA region five operations manager Bruce Farquharson said.