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Halls Gap residents begin evacuation as fire approaches

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Alana Schetzer and Aisha Dow

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Grampians resident films fire on her property

Brimpaen local Tori Dunn posts a series of videos online showing the Grampians fire front as it sweeps beside her property in the early hours of Friday morning.

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Residents who have chosen to stay and defend their properties in the Grampians do not have access to water.

Some have reported on social media that the water was turned off because it was boiling hot because of the nearby raging bushfire.

GWMWater’s Andrew Rose said there was a problem with the main pipeline from Halls Gap to Pomonal and crews could not get into the area to repair it.

Northern Grampians fire. Click for more photos

Grampians Fire

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

“We are aware there are some residents who have chosen not to evacuate and we have referred the matter to the Incident Control Centre in Horsham and they will be in touch with those people,” he said.

“We don’t know what has caused it but the pipeline is about a kilometre long and where don’t know where the fault is, and it is far too dangerous to go in and fix it.”

Mr Rose said he did not know when crews might be able to get to the pipeline to repair it.

The fire has also broken out of Grampians bushland into farmland, just a few kilometres from Dadswells Bridge, home of the Giant Koala.

Flames were threatening a farmhouse near Roses Gap Road as the wind picked up strength since about 8pm. Strike teams are rushing to the fire.

Towns in the Grampians are currently facing the most severe bushfire conditions, with the expected cool change coming through on Friday afternoon. Intense wind fire conditions have been created, which is making the task of controlling the 32,000 hectare fire even harder.

The fire has already burnt much of nearby Wartook Valley.

Residents have been told it is too late to leave and to take shelter immediately.

Kookaburra Motor Lodge owner Stephen Odgers told Fairfax Media he chose to stay and defend his Halls Gap business. Just before 5pm, Mr Odgers said it appeared the town had been spared, for now.

He said the air was thick with smoke and could see the glow in the horizon.

‘‘It doesn’t look too good towards some other parts. The helicopters have been filing up water,’’ he said.

Police have confirmed the death of a woman at a Rose Gap property on Friday from the bushfire.

Staff did not have to evacuate the Halls Gap zoo depsite a CFA order being issued earlier on Friday and the animals remained safe.

Zoo owner Greg Culell said in the worst-case scenario staff had been prepared to evacuate to a dam on the property and that the animals were never abandoned.

With the cool change, a warm south-westerly wind created chaotic conditions for the CFA.

The intensity of the blaze is creating its own microclimate, with lighting and storms now occurring.

Erratic wind conditions, including gusts, have been created and are a point of concern for the CFA if the bushfire spreads any further.

A CFA spokeswoman said 621 firefighters are at the scene and are supported by 88 trucks and eight bulldozers.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Stuart Coombs said northerly winds were expected to pick up across the area on Friday evening.

Earlier, the raging bushfire in the Grampians was now just two kilometres from some towns and the CFA warned residents it’s too late to leave.

The CFA has issued a new emergency warning for Grampians Junction and Halls Gap, with the fire moving south easterly from the north end of the Grampians National Park towards Halls Gap. The fire extends from Roses Gap to the western side of Mt Zero Road. It has reportedly burnt more than 33,000 hectares.

Police have confirmed a person has been killed in the Grampians bushfire.

The body was found at Roses Gap, 44km south-east of Horsham in the northern Grampians.

"The death is being treated as occuring as a result of the fires," Victoria Police said.

The Arson and Explosives Squad investigators are heading to the scene.

The CFA is warning of “highly erratic” fire conditions in the Northern Grampians, ahead of a wind change now due at 2pm on Friday.

Emergency services had earlier urged residents to evacuate from nine towns in the area, including Halls Gap, by 3pm.

Wimmera superintendent Graham Kent urged residents in Halls Gap and Dadswells Bridge to evacuate.

Speaking at a community meeting in Dadswells Bridge at noon on Friday, Mr Kent said emergency services' primary mission was to preserve life.

"Predicting what's happening is fraught. We are not able to say when you can return," he said.

“When the wind comes through it is really going to swing around towards Halls Gap,” CFA media officer Melissa Douglas said.

Emergency text messages are also being sent to those in the area, although the CFA said not all of them are getting through because of “reception difficulties”.

About 300 ppl at Halls Gap Community Meeting. Good to see many have or are evacuating #vicfires #cfa pic.twitter.com/XPzG5W5c8N

Ms Douglas said police would direct residents and visitors to the safest route to evacuate the town.

Police have been travelling to homes and business around Halls Gap, telling people they should leave.

More updates

More than 40,000 hectares have been burnt in the state’s north-west region, with no relief in sight for fire-fighters hoping to contain the blaze. Several out-of-control bushfires across Mallee could get worse thanks to Friday afternoon’s wind change.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley expects the blaze to burn throughout the weekend.

Nine aircraft are supporting about 250 firefighters in the battle to control the blazes occurring mainly in parkland and reserves.

Authorities are urging people to stay informed regularly check the CFA website.

A total fire ban has been declared across six Victorian regional centres for Saturday: Mallee district, Wimmera district, Northern Country district, North East district, East Gippsland district and West and South Gippsland district.

With The Wimmera Mail-Times

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