Towns evacuated, one dead in bushfire

Last updated 15:08 17/01/2014
Fairfax

Brimpaen local Tori Dunn posts a series of videos online showing the Grampians fire front as it sweeps beside her property in the early hours of Friday morning.

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Police have confirmed a person has been killed in the Grampians bushfire.

The body was found at Roses Gap, 44km south-east of Horsham in the northern Grampians.

"The death is being treated as occuring as a result of the fires," Victoria Police said.

The Arson and Explosives Squad investigators are heading to the scene.

Wimmera superintendent Graham Kent has urged residents in Halls Gap and Dadswells Bridge to evacuate.

Speaking at a community meeting in Dadswells Bridge at noon on Friday, Mr Kent said emergency services' primary mission was to preserve life.

"Predicting what's happening is fraught. We are not able to say when you can return," he said.

The Grampians town of Halls Gap is being evacuated, with fears an afternoon wind change will blow fire directly towards the town.

Hundreds of residents at a community meeting were told they should leave by 3pm today (local time).

"When the wind comes through it is really going to swing around towards Halls Gap," CFA media officer Melissa Douglas said.

Emergency text messages are also being sent to those in the area, although the CFA said not all of them are getting through because of "reception difficulties".

Ms Douglas said police would direct residents and visitors to the safest route to evacuate the town.

Police have been travelling to homes and business around Halls Gap, telling people they should leave.

Stephen and Peggy Odgers said they plan to stay and defend their motel on Heath Street, close to the centre of town.

The Odgers have owned the Kookaburra Motor Lodge for three years and have already endured one natural disaster - floods in 2011.

Mr Odgers said all of their guests have left and they had cancelled their bookings for Friday night.

But, he said, most of his neighbours will ignore the recommendation to evacuate, having successfully fought off ember attacks in the 2006 fire that ravaged the region.

About 11.30am, Mr Odgers said the smoke over the mountains was becoming worse.

"Our last resort is an area of bare land in the centre of Halls Gap but we're hoping we will not get to that," Mr Odgers said.

The fire in the Northern Grampians was over 11,000 hectares in size about 10.30am (local time).The CFA warned that by 3pm (local time) it may be too late to leave.

People in Pomonal, Bellfield, Lake Fyans and Lake Lonsdale have also been told they should evacuate.

A relief centre has been set up about 30 kilometres away in Stawell, at 49 Houston Street.

TOO LATE FOR SOME

Residents in some Grampians and northern Grampians towns have been told it is too late to leave their homes as an out-of-control blaze burns in a westerly direction.

The Country Fire Authority issued an emergency warning just after 6am (local time) for the towns of Wartook, 43 kilometres south-east of Horsham, Brimpaen, 18km west of Wartook, and is urging all residents in the area to take shelter inside immediately and not leave their homes.

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The same warning was issued to the towns of Heathvale and Laharum. The CFA says the fire is fast-moving and active in the Wartook Valley.

Lightning sparked 25 new fires overnight Thursday across Victoria. CFA chief officer Euan Ferguson said there were two confirmed property losses in the Grampians.

''We can confirm there have been two structural losses,'' he told the Nine Network.

''At this stage there is no loss of life or injury.

''Clearly the northern part of the Grampians will be under severe pressure for most of today."

He said the movement of the southwesterly wind change would be critical for the popular tourist town of Halls Gap, as well as Dadswells Bridge.

Winds are pushing the blaze in a westerly direction towards Wartook. It crossed the Northern Grampians Road between Heathvale and Wartook just after 6am on Friday. The Wartook Valley, between Flagstaff Track and Roses Gap, are affected by the blaze.

The North Grampians Road is closed because it has been engulfed by fire.

The CFA warned about 6.45am that embers were leaving the larger fire and starting new ones ahead of the main blaze. 

It has recommended that residents who remain at home close all outside doors, windows and vents, and turn cooling systems off. Shelter should be made in a room that has a door window to the outside, the CFA says.

People outside should, as a last resort, shelter in "a large body of water, like a dam, river or lake" or in-ground pool, or in a large area such as a ploughed paddock or a football ground.

The towns of Glenisla, Cherrypool and Glenisla Crossing have also been warned about a 11,300 hectare fire heading in a south-westerly direction from Pohlners Road.

The CFA has advised communities to "watch and act" according to conditions.

New fires began overnight in East Gippsland, Mr Ferguson said.

''Clearly with the wind conditions today the prognosis is that those fires are potentially going to get larger during the day,'' he said.

There was also severe lightning in the Otways and southwest Victoria and there are fears new fires may start, Mr Ferguson said.

Fires in the state's northwest are expected to burn out of national parks and into private land on Friday.

A wind shift is expected to hit the Grampians region between the late afternoon and early evening on Friday, prompting concern for firefighters who are battling the inferno in the area.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Richard Russell said a north-westerly wind is expected to pick up to about 45km/h before changing to a very gusty southerly wind.

''That's also about the time the temperature will cool down,'' Mr Russell said.

He said the wind change will bring about the worst conditions for crews fighting the blaze.

Before the change, the mercury is forecast to rise to the mid-40s in the Grampians.

- FFX Aus

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