Victoria will face the worst bushfire threat since Black Saturday on Sunday, with prolonged heatwaves and near-record temperatures creating dangerous conditions for residents throughout the state.
A total fire ban has been declared throughout the state and an extreme fire danger warning has been declared for six districts, including central Victoria, north-eastern Victoria and Gippsland.
Much of the state is dry due to recent heatwaves and a lack summer rain, creating tinder-box conditions.
A cool change is expected hit the state’s south-west on Sunday morning – and Melbourne by noon – but firefighters don’t expected it to bring much relief to their efforts.
As temperatures in parts of Melbourne peaked at 41.9 degrees on Saturday, Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the state faced a ‘‘very serious’’ threat throughout Sunday.
‘‘Anywhere in Victoria, fires will run and run hard,’’ he said.
‘‘The fire intensity will be furious, it will be fast, it will be out of control and people need to be very aware of that.’’
He urged all Victorians, especially those in extreme fire danger areas, to make sure their bushfire plan was ready to be activated at a moment’s notice.
Country Fire Authority firefighters spent Saturday battling three significant fronts across the state – two fires near the Snowy River and a cluster of fires around Buchan in East Gippsland and one in the Latrobe Valley.
An evacuation order for the small Gippsland town of Goongerah was issued on Saturday afternoon due to a fast-moving and out-of-control bushfire six kilometres north-west of the town.
By the evening, more than 2700 hectares of Errinundra National Park, near the New South Wales border, had been burnt.
The bushfire was caused by lightening 11 days ago but intensified due to the extreme heat since Friday.
The East Gippsland townships of Buchan, Buchan South and Sunny Point were placed on a watch-and-act warning, with residents warned of an out-of-control bushfire moving south-easterly. The Buchan Caves Reserve and campground were closed.
A relief centre was set up at Orbost Secondary College assembly hall in Orbost for residents who choose to leave.
Two fires raging near the Snowy River were predicted to join by Sunday morning, with the CFA placing the nearby townships of Bonang, Cabanandra, Deddick Valley, Dellicknora and Tubbut on alert.
By Saturday evening, the bushfires had burnt a combined 20,087 hectares of national park and remained active in the northern and western boundaries.
The Latrobe Valley bushfire, between Moe and Morwell, broke out on Friday night and is being treated as suspicious. Mr Lapsley said Victoria Police are investigating.
VicRoads closed the Princes Highway east-bound lanes between Morwell-Yallourn Road and Hernes Oak. Motorists were warned to expect to see visible smoke.
At the time of going to press there were no reports of injury or property damage. Near-record temperatures overnight were expected to continue to bake most of the state, creating hazardous conditions for firefighters on Sunday.
Overnight low temperatures on Saturday were expected to either match or just narrowly avoid Melbourne’s record of 30.6 held on two days – February 1, 1902, and January 12, 2010.
Temperatures steadily increased throughout Melbourne on Saturday, hitting a high of 40 at 5pm. Hopetoun, in the state’s north-west, hit a state-wide high of 44.1.
Melbourne Airport and Viewbank, in Melbourne’s north-east, were the hottest areas in the capital, having already reached 41.8 and 41.9, respectively.
Bureau senior forecaster Scott Williams forecast a south-westerly change to hit the south-west of the state by 7am and reach Melbourne by noon.
The change is not expected to hit the Gippsland area until 5pm, creating ‘‘near Black Saturday’’ conditions there throughout the day, he said.
Temperatures are expected to hit 37 in Melbourne and up to 42 in Albury-Wodonga.
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