Fire rages as Vic braces for ‘worst day in four years’

Savannah Meacham, Steven Deare and Rachael Ward |

The temperature dropped in the fire zone but strong southwesterly winds did not let up as expected.
The temperature dropped in the fire zone but strong southwesterly winds did not let up as expected.

Firefighters continue battling a large bushfire in western Victoria with authorities concerned conditions in the coming week will be the worst in four years.

Premier Jacinta Allan has confirmed the fire west of Ballarat has destroyed at least three homes and other buildings after tearing through nearly 16,000 hectares.

About 700 firefighters were battling the blaze on Saturday along with water bombing aircraft.

Ms Allan said it was incredibly lucky there had been no loss of life but residents should continue to be aware of the risk.

“It’s a big fire that’s already burned a lot of land, but it also is continuing to burn and will burn for a number of days and weeks ahead,” she said.

The Country Fire Authority said the fire was moving northeasterly towards Amphitheatre with a leave-now warning issued for residents as it edged closer to the town.

People who were told to evacuate earlier in the week can also not return.

They include residents from Avoca, Bayindeen, Chute, Elmhurst, Mount Lonarch and surrounds, Main Lead, Raglan, Middle Creek, Waterloo, Glenlofty, Glenpatrick, Glenshee, Green Hill Creek, Nowhere Creek, Crowlands, Eversley, Landsborough, Percydale and Warrenmang.

Ballarat bushfire
The fire has burnt through about 16,000 hectares and could continue for weeks. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Angus Hynes said the current benign and calm weather conditions would help firefighters battling the blaze.

Assessment teams were surveying damage from the air with crews on the ground also checking on the extent of the damage.

CFA chief Jason Heffernan said the community had been extremely well prepared and while three homes and perhaps more were sadly lost, a significant number remain.

Disaster assistance payments have been made available to people who have lost property.

Road closures were in place to prevent motorists straying into the fireground. These include the Pyrenees Highway, the Beaufort to Lexton Road, the Lexton to Ararat Road and Main Lead Road.

Ballarat fire
There are concerns worsening weather this week could help the Ballarat fire advance. (David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS)

Conditions were expected to continue to ease on Saturday with the weather cool and humid, but expected to shift again by mid-week.

Wednesday is the most concerning for firefighters, described as a “spike” day when the mercury is set to soar above 40C.

“It is looking like Wednesday into Thursday is going to be a very dangerous and difficult day across Victoria with that combination of extreme heat, high winds and dry lightning moving throughout the state,” Ms Allan said.

Mr Heffernan said Wednesday would bring an elevated risk for both the current blaze and other fires with northwesterly winds possibly pushing the Ballarat fire towards local communities.

“It could quite potentially be the worst fire day Victoria has seen in four years,” he said.

Ballarat fire
Premier Jacinta Allan has met with fire crews battling the Ballarat blaze. (David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS)

“I’d have every expectation that there is a potential that communities around this fire may find themselves having to be alerted and warned and given advice again, I sincerely hope that is not the case.

“I sincerely hope we see a breakdown in that weather pattern over the next couple of days and and the conditions will be much cooler.”

The Mallee, the Wimmera, southwestern and central regions including Melbourne could be in the firing line.