Battle rages on as fire destroys at least one home

Cassandra Morgan |

Hundreds of firefighters are battling a large bushfire threatening communities in Victoria’s west.
Hundreds of firefighters are battling a large bushfire threatening communities in Victoria’s west.

At least one home has been destroyed and more might have already been lost as firefighters face days of battling a massive blaze in western Victoria.

Tens of thousands of residents from communities near Ballarat were told to leave immediately as the bushfire, which began at Bayindeen, accelerated and ultimately ripped through more than 11,000 hectares as of Friday.

About 1000 firefighters, hundreds of trucks and almost 60 aircraft – including four large air tankers – have been fighting the blaze, with investigators yet to determine the cause.

Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan confirmed at least one home was destroyed but he expected more structures were already lost.

“I also expect there to be significant outbuildings, fence losses and (there are) likely to be stock losses as well,” he told reporters.

Impact assessment teams started to look at the scale of the destruction on Friday.

A wind change late on Thursday shifted the direction of the bushfire from southeasterly to northeasterly.

Crews were focused on the under-threat communities of Elmhurst, Amphitheatre and surrounds and expected milder conditions before another potential “fire spike day” on Wednesday.

Winds reached 69km/h on Friday morning but were expected to be about 30km/h for the rest of the day.

Firefighter at Raglan.
Properties near Raglan are among many being defended by Country Fire Authority crews. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

“It will take some time to contain the fires – it will be a lot easier in the open grassland and farmland where we will use dozers and graders to create containment lines,” Mr Heffernan said.

“In the bushland areas, that will be a little bit more complicated.

“I do anticipate we’ll have some solid containment leading into Wednesday.”

More than 25,000 homes were sent emergency alerts through voice or text messages on Thursday and about 5500 more went out on Friday morning.

Premier Jacinta Allan said it was a tough night for residents west of Ballarat.

Emergency Services Minister Jaclyn Symes warned the fight against the bushfire was not over.

“I can’t underestimate – this is a massive fire, it moved quickly, it grew fast and that’s why we have more than 175 trucks (and) 1000 personnel (on site),” Ms Symes told reporters.

Relief centres were set up at Ararat, Maryborough and Wendouree – the latter, attracting 200 registrations.

Of those who registered, eight people stayed at the centre overnight and a further 50 slept outside in caravans and other accommodation, mostly because they had pets and vehicles.

The bushfire forced the closure of the train line between Ballarat and Ararat, which authorities hoped to reopen by Saturday.

An emergency warning, watch and act alerts and advice messages remained in place on Friday for several communities north of Beaufort as the bushfire headed towards the Elmhurst and Amphitheatre region.

Two primary schools were shut on Friday and four others relocated, with all but one expected to be open next week.

Some 1365 electricity customers were left without power because of the conditions.

Fire trucks near Ragaln in Victoria.
About 175 fire trucks are involved in the battle to contain the huge bushfire. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

A high fire danger alert was active in parts of central and southwestern NSW, as well as the Greater Hunter region.

Hot conditions on Friday centred on Northern and Eastern NSW before thunderstorm activity and a cool change in the evening, Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Dean Narramore said.

In WA, a heatwave warning is current for the Pilbara, North Interior, South Interior and Gascoyne regions.

A bushfire watch and act alert is in place for people travelling along the Eyre Highway near the Balladonia Roadhouse and parts of Balladonia, and Fraser Range in the Shire of Dundas.