The number of Victorian homes destroyed by fire during the past week could rise to more than 50, authorities say.
On Tuesday afternoon, Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay confirmed 34 residential properties had been destroyed since Friday. Police are still investigating the possible loss of another 20 homes and this number is expected to rise further over the coming days.
Firefighters continue to battle 18 active fires across the state, including key blazes around Melbourne's outskirts, the Latrobe Valley and East Gippsland.
A family and a CFA crew battle a blaze in Kilmore on Monday. Photo: Penny Stephens
As smoke wafts across the state, Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley said some people in areas not affected by fire were calling triple zero wrongly believing there was a fire nearby.
He said the fire burning at the Hazelwood open cut coal mine was creating black smoke over nearby Morwell.
"There's smoke now spread over a broad area [including] central Victoria and the metropolitan area and people need to be mindful of that."
Mr Lapsley said the fire burning around Kilmore and Wallan was now at 23,000 hectares, after growing significantly overnight. It has destroyed at least 12 houses in Kilmore.
"It has proven difficult to get a control line around entire area of fire," Mr Lapsley said.
Police are investigating 16 suspicious fires and on Monday cautioned an 11-year-old boy over a blaze in the Bendigo area. A nine-year-old boy was also spoken with and released due to his age.
Mr Lay said arson was a complex issue for investigators.
"We're seeing evidence of quite young children lighting fires and we're seeing evidence in parts of people with criminal intent lighting fires and we're seeing evidence of people using tools and machinery that they shouldn't that are causing quite devastating fires.
"This is not just about a criminal going about lighting a fire here, there and everywhere."
But the police chief said authorities were extremely pleased there had been no reported deaths or missing persons.
"That is a very good result for us at the moment but having said that the fires are still burning and there is still considerable danger to people and property."
Earlier, Premier Denis Napthine said Victoria "has a serious issue with arsonists".
Dr Napthine said knowing that some people were lighting fires during such dangerous and extreme conditions was "an absolutely outrageous and sick-to-the-stomach feeling’’.
He said the authorities needed to do more research on what created arsonists.
Meanwhile, firefighters are preparing to fight two fast-burning fires in the Gippsland region, which are expected to merge late on Tuesday.
Deputy state controller Peter Rau said two of three fires burning in the area – one at the Goongerah-Deddick track and the other at the Buchanan-Jacksons Crossing – "looked likely to join".
He said firefighters would be putting all of their resources into fighting what looked to be a "long-duration incident".
"This is providing significant concern, and communities out there are seeing a lot of smoke in the area," he said.
"Structures are in place to inform the community, but there will certainly be some health concerns in relation to where this will end up."
Mickleham, Wallan and Kilmore
As of 3pm on Tuesday there were no longer any current emergency warnings across Victoria.
An earlier emergency warning for the communities of Bylands, Kilmore, Kilmore East and Willowmavin regarding the 16,000 hectare, out-control Mickleham blaze burning north of Melbourne was downgraded just before 3pm, to a watch and act alert.
Hundreds of houses have been damaged or affected by the Kilmore fire with at least 12 houses destroyed, according to the CFA.
The CFA has warned that it could take up to seven weeks for the danger from the fire to pass completely.
On Tuesday afternoon, there were four other watch and act warnings current for the communities of Bonang, Cabanandra, Deddick Valley, Dellicknora, Tubbut; Darraweit Guim, Wallan; Goongerah; Glenaroua, High Camp, Moranding, Pyalongname, Chintin, Goldie, Goldie North, Springfield and Tantaraboo.
Residents are advised to monitor the fires closely, and to exercise extreme caution when driving through fire-affected areas, where fallen trees and collapsed power-lines are blocking roads.
Damage, road closures and meetings
Houses lost across Victoria include: seven in Kilmore; four in Mickleham; three in Warrandyte; two in Wunghnu; two in Glenaladale; and one each in Beveridge, Yarram and Walpa.
Road closures in the area include Old Sydney Road, Mickleham Road, Northern Highway, Stockdale Road, Camerons Lane, Darraweit Road, Lancefield-Kilmore Road, Bolinda-Darraweit Road and Donnybrook Road.
The CFA has scheduled community meetings in bushfire areas, including a 6pm meeting at the Wallan Multipurpose Community Centre, Wallan; an 8pm meeting at Seymour Aquatic Centre in Pollard Street, Seymour; a 7pm meeting at the Yarram and District Health Service in Commercial Road in Yarram; and a 6pm meeting at the Romsey Recreation Reserve Stadium in Park Lane. The previously announced Kilmore meeting has been cancelled.
A meeting will also be held at Delegate Country Club at 1pm on Wednesday.
Islamic Relief Australia has delivered 400 sleeping bags to the Wallan Relief Centre with the help of Brunswick police. The aid organisation intends to deliver over 1000 litres of water to the centre on Tuesday.
Speaking earlier to radio station 3AW, Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley stated that unless Victoria received "inches" of rain in the next few days, nothing would ease the threat of bushfires in Melbourne’s north.
Mr Lapsley told radio 3AW on Tuesday that despite the recent cooler weather, "there is no relief close by".
"We're hoping the cyclone in Western Australia will send some rain down, but there is no significant rain forecast otherwise.
"‘We're looking at this bushfire season to last all of February and into March."
Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Richard Russell said the temperature is forecast to hover in the low 30s in the Kilmore area until Thursday, but will be cooler by the weekend.
Mr Russell said that despite heavy rain developing in far north Victoria on Friday, it is expected to taper off as it reaches southern Victoria.
He said Victoria could expect isolated showers on the weekend, with much cooler conditions in the first half of next week.
In a spot of good news, the grassfire in Wunghnu is now under control. Residents in Baulkamaugh North, Bunbartha, Drumanure, Dunbulbalane, Invergordon, Katandra, Marungi, Mundoona, Naring, Numurkah, Sandmount, Waaia, Wunghnu, Yalca, Yarroweyah are no longer under threat, but are advised to remain vigilant.
Firefighters will conduct a burn at Nine Mile Creek until dark on Tuesday.