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Mount Hotham prepares to fight as fire closes in

Staff at Mt Hotham village resort, downwind of threatening fires, prepare for the worst.

PT2M38S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2db6o 620 349

A cool change has brought relief to fire-ravaged Gippsland despite two suspicious fires  being lit around lunchtime.

There were fears wild winds would fan  the almost 70,000 hectare fire towards towns in the Heyfield and Mafra area.

Something people need to do is emotionally prepare as well as physically prepare. 

But  Department of Sustainability and Environment incident controller Dennis Matthews said the southwesterly wind  had arrived early, and there was now "no immediate threat to the community."

Fires in the Alpine National Park at Harrietville. Justin Crawley (left) watches the fire with Andy Forbes after finishing dinner.

Justin Crawley (left) and Andy Forbes watch the fire approach. Photo: Justin McManus

"We have endured the wind changes, the fire hasn't run hard, it hit the edge hard in places but we have dealt with at."

Mr Matthews said police were investigating what they believed were two deliberately lit blazes to the south of the main bush fire.

"It's quite obvious that it was not started by the main fire."

Fires in the Alpine National Park at Harrietville.

Fires in the Alpine National Park at Harrietville. Photo: Justin McManus

But he said these were not a threat to the community.

He said crews would spend more than a week back burning in the hope of reducing any future fire threat.
The fire is currently 60,000 hectares, and it will be watched for a number of months.

The wind is believed to have reached up to 80 km/h although the containment lines remained largely intact.

• Fire crews have breathed a sigh of relief because a previously predicted severe weather warning for ferocious winds across the state’s east failed to eventuate.

But thunderstorms are predicted at the weekend, adding another element of danger to the fire threat.

Fire crews are still battling blazes in Gippsland and in the state’s north-east, where residents in the towns of Harrietville and Hotham Heights have been warned that a large fire could have an impact any time within the next 24 hours.

In Gippsland, winds were predicted to gust at up to 90km/h, but only got to 70km/h in elevated areas and 60km/h elsewhere, a spokeswoman for the state bushfire control centre said.

The worst of the conditions in the area have now passed, she said.

In Harrietville, an earlier predicted wind change is now not expected at all.

Some in Harrietville chose to evacuate on Thursday, but others have stayed to defend their homes.

The Country Fire Authority has warned residents that if they want to leave, they should do so before conditions change. The latest advice, issued just before 9.30am, will apply until 1.30pm.

Up to 20 millimetres of rain is predicted to fall at Harrietville at the weekend, but much less is expected in Gippsland.

The long-running Aberfeldy-Donnellys fire has now burnt almost 70,000 hectares and the towns of Heyfield and Maffra may come under threat, depending on wind direction and strength.

Police are investigating whether the fire, which began last Thursday, was deliberately lit.

In community meetings in Harrietville and Hotham Heights on Thursday, the CFA said the blaze was burning in steep, dense forest and could affect the towns on Friday morning. Those who were not prepared to defend their homes were told to leave by 6pm Thursday as part of the ’’watch and act’’ warning in place. The highest alert, ’’emergency’’, which means imminent danger, had not been activated.

Aerial support had saved communication towers and historic buildings in the Alpine National Park since the fire started on Monday, the CFA said. The fire is believed to have been started by lightning.

CFA advice to residents at Harrietville said a control line had been built around the town and 170 firefighters had been strategically placed in the area.

CFA spokesman Travis Hearn said about 2000 residents visited information buses in Gippsland on Thursday as they prepared to again come under threat.

Two CFA buses visited towns, including Seaton, Sale, Cowwarr, Maffra and Heyfield. ’’Something people need to do is emotionally prepare as well as physically prepare,’’ Mr Hearn said.

Police said they would be monitoring arsonists on Friday and urged the public to report any suspicious behaviour.

In Melbourne, where a smoke haze continues to pervade in the city, the overnight temperature slipped to 24 degrees at 3.30am. But the mercury rose again quickly, and at 6am, it was 29 degrees.

In fact, the temperature at 11pm was still 30 degrees after yesterday's top of 36.

A cool change is expected later on Friday, with a top on both days of the weekend of 23 predicted. The temperature is expected to stay below 25 degrees until at least Thursday.

Friday is a day of total fire ban across most of the state. There is no ban in the North East and the East Gippsland districts.

With Nino Bucci and Vince Chadwick