The tiny community of Drik Drik in the state’s south west has had a momentary reprieve from fires that threatened it on Monday night, Country Fire Authority deputy incident controller Andy Cusack said.
Mr Cusack said the fire had burnt scrub near the front and a wind change had turned the fire back from Drik Drik.
It’s going to be a severe day and...we will see the potential for fires to start early in the day and, without much time at all, they become uncontrolled fires, which is the major concern.
On Tuesday afternoon, a grass fire north-west of Melbourne near the Calder Freeway at Diggers Rest was being battled, according to the Country Fire Authority. Although the fire is listed as ‘‘small’’, 20 fire units had been engaged to contain it and at 2pm it was still not under control.
A large fire near Kentbruck, in Victoria's south-west, may double in size, threatening the rural community of Drik Drik. Photo: Stewart Beaton/DSE
A CFA spokeswoman said houses located between the freeway and Baggy Green Street in Sunbury could be hit by the fire.
In Victoria's far west, swampy land was hampering efforts to contain the fire. On Sunday a huge bulldozer became bogged as a containment line was being cleared at Kentbruck ‘‘heath’’, east of Nelson.
‘‘We have used containment lines but we still have large areas of fire not contained or controlled,’’ Mr Cusack said.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard inspects the ruins of Dunalley Primary School in Tasmania, where bushfires have destroyed about 100 buildings. Photo: Peter Mathew
He said fires in tall blue gum and pine trees could easily jump containment lines and that firefighters were at the whim of weather conditions.
Mr Cusack said firefighters were waiting for the right weather and ground conditions to backburn and reduce the fuel for the fire. He said the fire was slowly marching north-east.
‘‘We have a moving beast but at this time the wind is favouring us but that could change at any time,’’ Mr Cusack said.
A helicopter dumps water to protect farm buildings at Oura, near Wagga Wagga. Photo: Les Smith
Earlier, winds had shifted smoke away from the tiny town of Dartmoor after many of the community’s residents evacuated on Monday and the rest of the state braced for fires amid dangerous conditions and searing temperatures.
Dartmoor Hotel owner Lorraine Lipscombe said the township of about 200 was ‘‘quiet’’ and ‘‘very clear’’ with smoke heading away from the township that had been under the threat of fire.
She said older residents and those with young families had already left and many of those who had opted to stay were out fighting the massive fire which had earlier threatened the nearby community of Drik Drik.
Ms Lipscombe said the post office and pub remained open at Dartmoor, and the information she had was that the fire was heading away from Drik Drik. She said Dartmoor had power and the pub was making sandwiches for the fire fighters.
Country Fire Authority state control centre spokeswoman Charlotte Azzopardi said 400 personnel were fighting the fire and a further 250 were expected on Tuesday night to help battle the blaze.
Ms Azzopardi said the fire was across 7051 hectares and had burnt 1150 blue gum and pine forests. She said the latest information was that the fire was still south of Drik Drik.
She said a wind change had been expected and fire fighters used bulldozers to create a fire break on Monday night.
Deputy incident controller Andy Cusack said people around the Glenelg River near Kentbruck could also be affected and had been asked to leave.
The Kentbruck-Portland blaze has already burnt almost 4500 hectares since Friday.
A total fire ban has been declared for much of Victoria for Tuesday. Total fire bans have been declared for the Mallee, Wimmera, Northern Country and North-East fire districts.
The fire bans came as fire services expected to be stretched on two fronts as a huge ’’dome of heat’’ over Australia threatened catastrophe in parts of the country - although by late morning in Melbourne the mercury had dropped and rain was falling.
It was feared the Kentbruck blaze could double in size because of strong winds, while in the state’s north, temperatures were forecast to again reach the 40s.
Earlier Tuesday, Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the immediate concern in Victoria was the bushfire in the south-west.
Hundreds of firefighters are concentrated in the area.
In a statement issued at 5.10am, the Country Fire Authority warned residents that if they do not have a bushfire survival plan, they should leave on Tuesday morning.
Mr Lapsley said the fire would be pushed by winds.
‘‘We believe that it’s got the potential to move a significant distance [on Tuesday],’’ he said.
The fire is also affecting areas near the South Australian border as smoke shrouds the communities of Mumbannar, Kentbruck, Mount Richmond, Nelson, Wade Junction.
Plumes of smoke from the fire — visible for kilometres — have drifted over nearby Dartmoor and rural community of Mumbannar. Shortly before midday they had lifted and moved.
And as parts of Tasmania are left in ruins, NSW was bracing for what may be the worst fire danger it has ever faced, with a ’’catastrophic’’ fire warning ahead of temperatures there also set to soar above 40.
The so-called dome of heat over the continent has broken temperature records and set the scene for dangerous conditions to last for days across large tracts of the country.
Searing conditions in the north of the state have meant a severe fire danger rating along the SA border, along the Murray River and the border with NSW.
‘‘It’s going to be a severe day and, coupled with the weather that’s in NSW, we will see the potential for fires to start early in the day and, without much time at all, they become uncontrolled fires, which is the major concern,’’ Mr Lapsley said.
Australia is likely to have posted a record average maximum on Monday, beating the previous high of 40.17 degrees on December 21, 1976, according to Karl Braganza, manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology.
Dr Braganza said that while such records were "hard to break” and the bureau was yet to complete its analysis of the numbers, the long-standing high would probably be exceeded. "It’s likely to just beat it,” said Dr Braganza, adding that the mercury was continuing to climb in some areas.
The heatwave continues to envelop a huge region, stretching from northern Victoria and inland NSW, to Birdsville in central west Queensland, across to north-western Western Australia and down to the Nullarbor coast.
“It’s just an extensive dome of heat over the continent,” Dr Braganza said.
Among the high temperatures on Monday were:
Oodnadatta (SA) 47.5
Port Augusta (SA) 47.4
Moomba (SA) 45.9
Wilcannia (NSW) 45.0
Ivanhoe (NSW) 45.3
Leonora (WA) 46.9
Forrest (WA) 44.1
Warburton (WA) 47.0
Mandora (WA) 44.2
Urandangi (Qld) 42.9
Birdsville (Qld) 45.1
Swan Hill (Vic) 43.3
— With Peter Hannam and AAP