News National Victoria’s Halls Gap ‘dodged fire bullet’

Victoria’s Halls Gap ‘dodged fire bullet’

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· Conditions ease after homes destroyed in SA

Halls Gap dodged a bullet when a wind change spared the holiday village from fire, Victoria’s fire chief says.

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 locals chose to stay to defend their homes.

Authorities are beginning the clean-up after the bushfire destroyed 10 homes and burnt more than 51,800 hectares.

Incident controller Andrew Morrow said some sections of the fire are not yet under control but emergency services have been focusing on returning residents to their homes and opening major roads where safe to do so.

“There is still a lot of work to do in back burning and blacking out to ensure the fire is safe, but we also need to move in to the recovery stage so that the wider Grampians area can get back to operating as usual.”

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said Halls Gap was back in business and had an earlier-than-expected wind change to thank.

“Halls Gap dodged a bullet,” Mr Lapsley told Fairfax Radio on Sunday, referring to the change.

The main fire front came within 4km of Halls Gap, although a number of spot fires were closer.

Halls Gap is the first time an evacuation order has been used since the evacuation policy came in after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

A small number of homeowners elected to stay, with fire trucks also in the town.

“If you have a pecuniary interest and you make that decision and you’re well briefed – which they were – that’s your right,” Mr Lapsley said.

“But on the same token if it becomes a very unsafe situation or if it becomes where people are behaving in a way that is endangering themselves, police still could take some really serious actions and remove them, but that’s not where we wanted to be nor were we at.”

Premier Denis Napthine says authorities will examine how the evacuation went in the Grampians but that compulsory evacuation is unlikely.

Mr Lapsley also believes it’s not necessary to remove the right of property owners to stay to fight a fire.

“I would suggest you would not need to change the law of the land in that regard.”

A number of fires have also been burning in the southern Grampians but they are now all contained or controlled.

Overnight the Black Range bushfire jumped containment lines and began moving towards Stawell but the threat has since eased.

The Grampians National Park will remain closed until noon on Monday.