Police believe nine separate cases of arson may be the cause of some of the bushfires that continue to rage across Victoria, despite milder weather conditions, with one out-of-control blaze burning through almost 20,000 hectares of land in Melbourne's north.
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Morwell fire threatens power supplies
Fires threaten the Gisspland town of Morwelll and nearby electricity power infrastructure, and reports of property lost in the East Gippsland towns of Goongerah and Yarram.
The La Trobe Valley continues to burn around Morwell, the day after fires tore across paddocks and bushland claiming at least one property.
Victorian Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the key fire on Monday was the Morwell fire.
“The fire is burning currently in the Hazelwood open cut mine and also at the Australian Paper mill at the northern side of Morwell.
“It is not threatening lives but it certainly has the potential to impact on critical infrastructure for Victoria.”
Out of control blazes also continue to rage in far-east Gippsland causing concern among firefighters battling to contain lines.
In Melbourne's north, the CFA has confirmed that five houses have been destroyed by the Mickleham Road fires, all in or around Mickleham, not seven as previously estimated.
However, the full impact of the Mickleham/Kilmore fires is not known, as the CFA impact assessment teams had to pull out Monday afternoon because of the increased fire activity.
Deputy incident controller Mark Gunning said it was believed other houses had also been damaged.
Fires burn in Kilmore overnight
An update from Kilmore where fast moving bushfires have swept through parts of the countryside. Nine news.
The furnace-like conditions of the weekend - which saw the mercury soar past 40 degrees - eased on Monday but warm temperatures and no chance of rain left the state hanging in a precarious balance with the Country Fire Authority issuing high to very high fire danger ratings.
Victoria Police investigators from the Arson and Explosives Squad confirmed they were working with local investigators and bushfire experts, with assistance from arson chemists, to determine the cause 14 fires across the state, with nine of those deemed to be suspicious.
These nine fires suspected to have been lit by arsonists began at:
• Strezlecki Highway, Driffield
• Merri Creek, Fawkner
• Great Ocean Road, Port Campbell
• Old Jindivick, Drouin West
• Merri Creek, Reservoir
• Havilah Road and Poulston St, North Bendigo
• Egans Road, Jack River
• Kaarimba Road, Wunghu
• O'Hara's Road, Yinnar
CFA chief fire officer Euan Ferguson said that the blaze in the Morwell open cut mine is also deemed suspicious.
Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said police were revisiting the homes of known arsonists and patrolling very high risk areas.
Mr Lay said they had suspects for some of the suspicious fires. “Some investigations are well progressed.”
“We have a far, far better picture than we ever have before on these people and how they behave.”
But he said it was not only deliberately lit fires that were creating a headache for authorities.
“Fires have been lit by people simply not acting in a sensible matter by the way they use tools and other machinery.”
A CFA spokeswoman said the CFA was battling 22 out-of-control blazes across the state, with 7 emergency warnings and 8 watch and act warnings remained in place.
An emergency warning is in place for the Mickleham Road fire, north of Melbourne, the largest of the fires currently ablaze across the state.
Emergency warnings are also in place for the towns and suburbs of:
Forbes, Springfield, Bylands, Wallan, Darraweit Guim, Goldie, Goldie North, Tantaraboo, Willowmavin, Clarkefield, Kilmore East, Kilmore and Chintin.
The incident controller of the Mickleham Road fire, Mark Gunning, said it had now burnt "in excess of 19,000" hectares and is "not yet under control".
"It was driven by really strong winds. And it followed topographical lines ... It is growing, obviously not as fast as yesterday under the extreme conditions, but it's a big fire, with lots of fire edge and inaccessible terrain in a lot of the fire edge. Which is going to pose difficulties for firefighters to establish containment lines."
Mr Gunning said more than 700 firefighters are now fighting the fire, along with seven helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft. The progress of the fire had been stopped in a "number of areas, so there has been a lot of good work done".
While some homes and buildings had been lost, "there's also been a significant number of saves," he said.
Fourteen schools have been closed across Victoria, and parents are urged to check the education department website for more information.
An emergency warning covering the towns of Forbes, Goldie, Goldie North, Tantaraboo and Willowmavin is in place, where an out-of-control inferno burns in a northerly direction of Kilmore-Lancefield Road towards High Camp.
CFA chief officer Euan Ferguson said the Mickleham Road fire remained of most concern to authorities.
Mr Ferguson said the 6000-hectare fire in the Latrobe Valley was still burning in an open cut mine, across paddocks and in remote areas of bushland.
"That has affected a number structures around Morwell and we are also dealing with fire in and around the Latrobe Valley open cut mine area," he said.
About two kilometres of coal inside the mine is on fire, he said.
"It is really challenging for firefighters to go in there and combat it because it burns very intensely and quite deep within the coal, and as they pull the coal apart and give more oxygen to the fire, it actually burns more intensely," he said.
"That could go on for some time in the coal mine there."
On Monday, major areas still without power were Dargo, Bemm River, Marlow, Willowmavin, Forbes, Glenaladale, Morwell, as well as the Kilmore region.
Premier Denis Napthine said that the government had learnt the lessons from Black Saturday with better information for all residents and better structure of fire fighting authorities.
Dr Napthine told ABC News that the Hazelwood power station was operating "as required" with firefighters working hard to protect the station.
"All Victorians need to be alert today, it is still a dangerous situation," he said.
For those affected by the Kilmore area fire, there will be a community meeting held on Monday at Kilmore Race Track at 6pm.
A relief centre has been opened up at Seymour Basketball Stadium, Chittick Park, Pollard Street, Seymour.
Meanwhile, the Gisborne Community Centre in Hamilton Street has opened for people displaced by the Mickleham Road fire, which is affecting Darraweit Guim, Romsey, Springfield, Goldie and other areas, the Macedon Ranges Shire Council said.
Any members of the community affected by fire are urged to attend the relief centre for support and information, such as catering, material needs, emergency shelter, temporary accommodation and counselling.
The meetings will be attended by emergency services agencies including the CFA, Victoria Police and Macedon Ranges Shire Council, and will be held at 6pm at the Riddells Creek Leisure Centre, and at 7.30pm at the Gisborne Mechanics Institute Hall on Hamilton Street.
THE EVENING COMMUTE
The Latest V/Line update advises that trains have resumed on the Bendigo Line after it was suspended on Sunday due to bushfires in the Riddells Creek area, however delays are to be expected on services between Sunbury and Gisborne as only one of the two tracks is available due to fire damage.
A heat-affected timetable will apply to the Bendigo line on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Princes Highway East is now open to traffic between Newborough and Morwell for traffic heading towards Moe and Melbourne.
The speed limit has been reduced to 60km/h due to line-marking and guide-posts that have been damaged in the fire and need to be replaced.
East-bound lanes towards Traralgon/Sale are still closed.
COOLER WEATHER TO ARRIVE LATE IN THE WEEK
Cool weather can't come fast enough but Victorians will have to wait until Thursday for real relief.
In Melbourne, the weather reached a top of 24 degrees around midday on Monday with clear blue skies a marked difference to the troubled dust and smoke filled skies of Sunday.
Hot temperatures will move back across the state on Tuesday and Wednesday, but winds will generally be light-to-moderate, limiting fire danger.
From Thursday, there is excellent news for firefighters with rain and much cooler temperatures on their way.
Parts of Victoria could see rainfall totals of around 20mm from Thursday to Saturday.
With AAP, Richard Willingham