Victoria has survived its first major bushfire crisis since Black Saturday, with emergency warning systems and early evacuation procedures - recommended by the royal commission - largely working well, says Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley.
Parts of the Grampians are expected to be reopened to the public on Sunday after the Country Fire Authority declared the worst of the bushfire threat had passed.
The CFA downgraded its warning for Halls Gap, Dadswells Bridge, Wartook and surrounding areas. The bushfire, which destroyed about 10 homes and burnt 52,000 hectares, remains out-of-control. A major clean-up operation is expected to start on Sunday.
Darren Jasper and Mick Dalziel near the Grampians fire. Photo: Justin McManus
Watch and act alerts remain for parts of East Gippsland, including Club Terrace, Combienbar, Manorina, Bellbird Creek and Cabbage Tree Creek in the state’s far east. Multiple bushfires burning west and north of Club Terrace are still out-of-control.
The town of Goongerah has been urged to remain up to date on the spread of multiple bushfires to the southeast and west. Power has been shut off in the town due to the fire’s impact on powerlines.
There were fears on Friday that the Grampians town of Halls Gap would be razed and 500,000 hectares of Gippsland would be turned to ash as dozens of fires spread out of control.
Residents in some Grampians and northern Grampians towns have been told it is too late to leave their homes as an out-of-control blaze burns in a westerly direction. Photo: CFA
But Mr Lapsley said on Saturday the worst was over. Forty-two fires were still burning out of control in Victoria, but all had been downgraded to a ''watch and act'' status.
''The worst is over," he said. "There are no emergency warnings in play.''
Mr Lapsley noted that the early evacuation of Halls Gap had proved to be ''a good call''.
Residents in the Grampians were expected to return to their homes by Saturday night. Parts of the Grampians National Park were expected to re-open on Sunday.
However, the heat in the north of the state, where temperatures remain in the 40s, continues to be of concern.
The extent of the damage remained unknown as impact assessments were being carried out on Saturday and Sunday. However, 100,000 hectares were known to be burnt out, and four houses in the Grampians had been ''impacted'' (presumably lost), along with numerous sheds, uncounted kilometres of fencing; about 7500 sheep had also been affected. The sheep were being assessed by Department of Environment and Primary Industries staff and veterinarians, with many predicted to be put down.
The single reported fatality, that of a woman in Roses Gap in the Grampians, was being treated as resulting from a medical issue and not directly caused by the fire.
The tower of smoke from the Grampians fire was 12 kilometres high, more than three kilometres higher than Mount Everest.
The change in weather stopped the worse-case scenario in Gippsland - that multiple fires would join up to make a catastrophic burn and destroy 500,000 hectares.
Mr Lapsley said the cool change that came through two hours earlier than predicted also helped protect the southern part of Halls Gap, with winds preventing the fire from devouring the town. However, the change put the Mallee town of Ouyen under threat, with the added complication that many residents had gone to bed not knowing their town was at risk.
According to Paul Holman, Ambulance Victoria operations manager, there were 500 heat exposure cases across the state last week, and the threat continues for aged and frail people, as their bodies had undergone a great deal of stress in the past five days.
Heat-related cardiac arrests ''continue to be an issue in Melbourne''. He said ambulances responded to 77 cardiac arrests on Friday and 22 on Saturday, despite the cooler weather.
''This is twice as many that we usually see,'' he said.
Mr Holman said 50 children had been left in cars since Tuesday, and implored the public to take notice that this was ''a recipe for disaster''.
Meanwhile, 12 homes have been reportedly lost to fires in South Australia fires where emergency warnings remained in place.
Ten CFA firetrucks left for Adelaide to assist local fire crews.