Fire conditions the worst since Black Saturday

Last updated 00:07 18/01/2014

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A bushfire that has claimed a woman's life is creating its own weather as it rages through a popular Victorian tourist region.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the 21,000 hectare Grampians fire was so intense that it had “created its own weather”, triggering lightning and spot fires around Halls Gap.

Firefighters were battling dangerous winds and conditions that are the worst since Black Saturday.

The Grampians blaze is one of 70 fires burning across Victoria, after the state suffered through a four-day heatwave and some of the worst fire conditions since Black Saturday.

The woman was found dead at her Roses Gap property, at the northeastern edge of the Grampians National Park, on Friday morning.

Tourists and most residents of Halls Gap and surrounding areas left the area on Friday after an evacuation notice was issued.

Halls Gap still faces a serious threat from the fire, which was bearing down on the town on Friday evening, pushed by 80-100km/h winds.

The Grampians complex has grown to 21,000 hectares in size and has created a 12km-wide convection column, generating its own weather and lightning strikes and sparking smaller spotfires.


Rohan McDonald, owner of the Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist Park, said a massive plume of smoke that resembled an atomic bomb was visible in the town.

He said his 100 campsites and 20 cabins had evacuated.

"They all started leaving last night when they saw the big red glow on top of the mountain," he told AAP.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the fire risk would continue at the weekend.

"There will be pressure on those fires for some hours, extending into Saturday," he told reporters.

Mr Lapsley said Friday was only the beginning of a serious bushfire season.

"We're only at the start of what is a significant fire period," he said.

"Today is one of those days that certainly will be marked in the history of Victoria for the types of fires and the conditions that have led up to it."

The Grampians fire has caused building damage at the Troopers Creek Tavern and the Happy Wanderers Holiday Resort at Wartook while the CFA says the town of Heathvale has also been affected.

Mr Lapsley said the southwesterly change had brought with it strong winds, making the fire potentially lethal.

"There is a fair chance of losing property and even, if people are caught in the wrong space, a life could be lost," he said.

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine said the woman's death was a timely reminder about the importance of listening to bushfire warnings.

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"This should be a very, very salient lesson to everybody that when you're told to leave, when you're told that there is a huge risk to your life and property, then your life is worth saving by leaving early," he said.

Fires have burnt through more than 40,000 hectares in the Mallee region and are expected to continue through the weekend.

In East Gippsland, in the eastern corner of the state, a series of 25 fires sparked by lightning were merging to create a single, massive bushfire which authorities warned could grow to half a million hectares in size.

Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells said the focus of firefighting efforts would be to protect crucial electricity transmission assets in the area.

While most of the state was cooled by the southwesterly change, conditions in the state's northeast will still be extremely hot on Saturday, with the temperature forecast to reach 40C at Wangaratta and 42C at Wodonga.

A total fire ban has been declared for the Mallee, Wimmera, Northern Country, North East, East Gippsland and West and South Gippsland fire districts on Saturday.


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