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Fire springs up without warning at Crib Point
At least one house was destroyed after a grassfire suddenly sprang up near Crib Point on Monday afternoon. Courtesy ABC News 24.
This was the nightmare scenario Crib Point residents said they feared, at the end of a long day in which a bushfire threatened the Mornington Peninsula town for several hours, before being contained but not extinguished before dusk by a firefighting force that included 30 tankers, three water bombing helicopters and the "brother of Elvis", an Ericsson air crane.
Fire crews and about 10 tankers continued to work to reduce the fire's size and prevent it spreading into populated areas through the night.
Staff with the Department of Environment had created a mineral earth trail and a dozer line to stop the fire creeping out of containment lines.
One house was destroyed in the blaze, and two damaged, but no one died, an outcome the CFA said was a "fantastic result" given how much worse things could have been in the scrubby area in which it started.
"It's a credit to these guys that we had a bad result in that we lost an asset but a fantastic result in that it could have been much worse," CFA incident controller Neil Sthalathius said.
The fire, between Western Port Bay and the town centre, burned 100 hectares of coastal forest and urban fringe. "Where scrub meets houses," Mr Sthalathius told a town hall style meeting.
A small area of the town near the fire front was evacuated and some residents near the corner of Disney Street and the Esplanade were not able to return home.
The community attended in their hundreds the meeting inside the humid local basketball stadium, and expressed their gratitude to the 170 firefighters who worked to protect them that day. But they also expressed their fear that Tuesday, a second consecutive total fire ban, could be the day things go "pear-shaped".
The anxiety in the room was palpable.
A rumour rippled through the hall that the fire was the work of an arsonist. The CFA and police said the cause of the fire was unknown and was being investigated.
"Catch the bastard," one elderly man cried out. "We're going to lose lives if the bastard isn't caught."
Paul Demetriou, also from the CFA, reiterated the message that people should have a plan for tomorrow's high fire danger day.
"Don't decide to just hang around at home until the fire starts and then leave," he said.
He urged people to check the CFA website and listen to ABC774 to stay up to date.
Earlier in the day, before the fire was contained, police had blocked several roads in the town that lead to the bay, ensuring nobody could get any closer to the fire zone.
Those behind the road blocks were progressively rounded up and evacuated.
Black-grey smoke could be seen rising out of the mangroves, right on the water line and it filled the air with an acrid smell.
Behind police lines, near the local CFA station, locals stood on their nature strips craning their necks towards the direction of the fire, which could not be seen.
There was an air of communal curiosity, more than panic. A group of four teenage boys rode past on BMX bikes, heading towards the final emergency services road block for a closer look.
Local Esther Vaughan, a night shift worker, said she was woken from her sleep by sirens.
She walked to a viewing spot and watched the fire bombers suck water out of the sea before dropping it on the blaze.
The neighbourhood where the fire burns is an upmarket one, Ms Vaughan said, with expensive houses lining the Esplanade.
"The fire, I think it jumped the road," she said.
Behind the police road block, Christine Goninon was leaving home for the night, her cat Patch sitting on her lap in the driver's seat of her car.
She had left everything else behind.
"I'm getting out of here," she said. "I've told the firies that if the house catches fire, let it burn."
Ms Goninon was heading to a friend's place further away from the fire. She has lived in Crib Point 30 years and seen bad fires before and said it was possible it could reach her street, even as neighbours stayed put.
"I wouldn't be surprised," she said. "There are still people down there drinking away and thinking they'll be safe, but I don't think they've been through a fire here before."