Victoria braces for days of high fire risk
The bushfire in the Mount Hotham region is one of five 'live' blazes in the state. Photo: Robert Plumtree
Victoria faces days of heightened fire risk with the return of hot weather and little sign of rainfall relief for much of the state.
Fire resources have been mobilised to fight five continuing fires in expectation of warmer conditions lasting until Sunday.
A “severe fire danger” rating has been forecast for the south west and north central districts and a “very high” rating for the rest of the state, Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said.
“The lack of rain has completely dried most areas of grassland and bush across Victoria,” he said.
"This combined with heavy fuel-loads caused by rains and flooding across the state over the past couple of years means we are faced with a serious fire risk."
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Meteorology updated its drought statement to expand the area declared to be suffering severe rainfall deficiency over the past six months to include parts of the Mallee, Wimmera and the Riverina region of southern NSW. (See map here.)
“The simplest message is that east of the Divide, too much water; west of it, not enough,” Karl Braganza, the bureau's head of climate monitoring, said. “The fuel is very dry out there and we've got another month or so of summer to go.”
Sites recording record low rainfall over the past four months range from Mildura and Hamilton in the west to Epping and Strath Creek in the state's centre and Charlotte Pass in the Snowy Mountains.
Temperatures are expected to reach the high 30s in much of northern Victoria on Wednesday. Melbourne is forecast to reach 35 degrees and clock daily maximums of 30 or above until Sunday.
While the state has endured severe spells of dangerous fire weather, authorities have been aided by the absence of sustained periods of windy conditions.
“So far that's been the saviour in terms of the really severe fire weather,” Dr Braganza said.
Up to 250 fire fighters continue to work to contain the fire near Harrietville, with two major back-burn efforts aimed at protecting the Alpine town along with the townships at Dinner Plain and Mt Hotham. The fire has destroyed some 6500 hectares and has a perimeter stretching 80 kilometres, a spokeswoman with the State Control Centre said.
Another 140 are working on the Aberfeldy fire, which has burnt through about 74,000 hectares in central Victoria. That blaze has destroyed 21 houses and has a fire perimeter of 300 kilometres.