Firefighters are taking advantage of benign weather conditions to try to contain a massive bushfire in Victoria’s east as police investigate whether it was deliberately lit.
The 53,000-hectare blaze has already killed one man, who was found in a burnt-out car on Friday, and destroyed at least nine homes since it began in the Baw Baw National Park on Thursday.
Nearby communities were no longer under immediate threat from the blaze as cooler conditions slow its progress, allowing firefighters to work on containing the blaze.
Residents from Seaton and Glenmaggie were allowed to begin returning home from 5pm.
Police are appealing for people to come forward if they witnessed anything suspicious in the hours before the blaze started at Aberfeldy in Gippsland about 11.30am on Thursday.
They particularly want to speak to anyone who was camping in the Donnelly Creek Road area on Thursday morning or local residents.
Arson and Explosives Squad Detective Senior Sergeant Jeffrey Maher said the witness appeal was part of an ongoing investigation into the cause of the fire.
‘‘We’re not jumping to any conclusions,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re keeping an open mind about the situation at this stage but we are really just making sure that we do it methodically and thoroughly and investigate this particular incident.’’
State Control Centre spokesman Lee Miezis said firefighters were undertaking backburning operations to control the blaze ahead of worsening weather conditions expected on Thursday and Friday, when temperatures are forecast to rise.
‘‘(The weather) is helping us at the moment,’’ he said.
Mr Miezis said the fire was still 15 kilometres from the town of Licola where a team of firefighters remain with residents who have chosen to stay and defend their homes.
The town is not under immediate threat but the unpredictability of the blaze means residents there and in other nearby communities need to remain on alert, possibly for weeks, he said.
‘‘It’s burning into quite difficult terrain so it’s difficult to say but I don’t think it’s something we’re going to make safe within days,’’ he said.
‘‘I think we are talking weeks.’’
Mr Miezis said authorities were ensuring everyone had been accounted for and asked people who left their homes to register with the Red Cross.
There are 14 aircraft, 70 trucks and around 500 personnel currently working on the Gippsland fires.
Meanwhile, a blaze that began in a pine plantation at Kentbruck in the state’s south-west two weeks ago continues to burn but remains contained.