Mixed outlook for Australia fires

Last updated 00:00 19/01/2014
Reuters

Dozens of fires continue to burn across south-eastern Australia as milder temperatures bring relief to firefighters. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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The fire emergency facing Victorian's Grampians region is over and the tourist village of Halls Gap has escaped unscathed.

The town was ravaged by fires in 2006 and has in the past been hit with floods, droughts and landslides.

"We still can't celebrate because the mountain range is devastated again," said Paul Antonio of the local Brambuk Backpackers and Aboriginal cultural centre.

"I think they were spending flood funding up to this point, so now they'll have to get some funding for fire damage, I suppose."

Tourists and residents of the village and surrounding towns were evacuated as fire burned in the northern area of the Grampians National Park on Friday, although some people chose to stay to defend their homes.

The 51,000-hectare blaze claimed one life, four homes, several sheds, many kilometres of fencing and affected up to 7500 sheep, most of which will have to be put down.

The main threat had passed by Saturday afternoon and an emergency warning for Halls Gap and Grampians Junction was downgraded to a watch and act alert.

The blaze is not yet under control.

Authorities say fire came within two kilometres of Halls Gap but an earlier-than-expected wind change saved the village.

Residents were being allowed back on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Antonio said Halls Gap became dark and still as an orange glow hovered over the mountains on Friday afternoon.

"It was just a ghost town with parks people driving tankers around and a couple of CFA people, that was it," he said.

The evacuation order was the first issued since evacuation policy came in after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

Terry May and his wife decided to stay to defend their farm in the small town of Pomonal.

They moved their 4000 sheep, isolated machinery, hosed down the house and placed water tanks across their 800-hectare farm at Pomonal as the Grampians fire came towards them.

"We were in the 2006 fires, so we knew exactly what to expect with the smoke, the dust conditions, the lack of light, the preparations for around the house and the farm," Mr May told AAP on Saturday.

By about 1pm Friday, a haze of dark smoke cloaked the sky but a sudden wind change saved the day.

"As soon as that happened, the danger period elapsed," Mr May said.

Grampians incident controller John Haynes said some homes were lost in the small town of Brimpaen, while two properties near Dadswells Bridge were affected.

The Grampians fire also caused building damage at the Troopers Creek Tavern and the Happy Wanderers Holiday Resort at Wartook.

A woman's body was found at her Roses Gap property on Friday morning, although authorities say she died as a result of a medical issue.

The Grampians fire complex was so intense on Friday it created a 12-kilometre-wide convection column, generating its own weather and lightning strikes and sparking smaller spot fires.

About 500 people have been at relief centres at Horsham, Stawell and Ararat in recent days.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Twelve homes have been lost in South Australia as thousands of hectares continue to burn out of control across the state.

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An emergency warning was issued for residents at the small town of Truro on Saturday afternoon, as the Eden Valley fire made a run towards the Sturt Highway.

The SA Country Fire Service (CFS) warned that the blaze, which has burnt through more than 22,000 hectares since Friday, was putting lives and homes at risk.

About 160 firefighters were supported by nine aircraft at the fire, a CFS spokesman told AAP.

It was not known how many homes were under threat, he said.

The fire was one of five blazes in the state on Saturday.

Of concern was a fire at Bangor in the southern Flinders Ranges, where the CFS said conditions were continually changing.

A watch and act alert was issued in the afternoon with residents urged not to return to the area until advised.

But the CFS spokesman said crews had experienced a "pretty reasonable day" with milder conditions allowing firefighters to get the better of some blazes.

"We have had a day where we have been able to consolidate a lot of fires and nothing new has kicked off."

A band of lightning seen in the morning over the top of the state had caused concerns, however, that seemed to have stabilised, he said.

So far five homes are confirmed to have been lost in the Bangor blaze, with two destroyed in the Billiat park region and five lost in Eden Valley.

However, the CFS said the number could increase as damage assessment crews were deployed.

There has been substantial stock losses.

Premier Jay Weatherill said it would be an achievement if the state came through the fires without loss of life or substantial property loss.

"And it's an achievement which is entirely due to the professionalism and education of our emergency services," he told reporters.

He said the government would meet the needs of families who had lost their homes.

"It's obviously devastating for the families ... we are here making sure we can provide support for those families," he said.

Due to the relatively small number of people affected at this point, he said services expected to be able to contact each of the families to ensure they received direct support and assistance.

About 10 firefighters were injured battling the blazes in the past few days, including for heat-related illness and smoke inhalation.

The Bureau of Meteorology says weather conditions are moderating.


- AAP

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