Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate their homes and properties are under threat as out-of-control fires burn across the country in unprecedented conditions.
Soaring temperatures across Australia for October has caused bushfires to arrive early this year, with authorities urging people to prepare now for a potentially “long, hot, dry and dangerous fire season”.
In Victoria, more than 200 fires broke out across the state on Tuesday, with hundreds evacuating to safer ground. Firefighters were hopeful that a cool change on Wednesday would assist in bringing the blazes under control.
In Central Victoria, residents are demanding answers as to how a planned burn by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) on Saturday managed to jump containment lines, and is burning out-of-control near Lancefield.
More than 200 homes were under threat and one completely destroyed in the Lancefield-Cobaw fire on Tuesday night.
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) upgraded a watch and act notice to an emergency warning for the people of Cobaw, Lancefield, Benloch and Nulla Vale about 4pm on Tuesday.
It said the fire was impacting houses on Ashworths Road, Musk Gully Road, Whalans Track and Greenways Road, while a number of sheds had also been lost.
Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley confirmed the blaze was a controlled burn on public land last Wednesday by the DELWP, which jumped containment lines in hot, blustery conditions on Saturday.
He added the state was experiencing weather conditions never before seen in October.
“It was actually controlled … again, it’s proved itself, the Cobaw Ranges, to be a very difficult place to control, and with the conditions we have today … with the temperatures and the wind speeds it’s challenged those containment lines,” Mr Lapsley said on Tuesday.
“We have not experienced this type of temperatures or wind speeds in the first week of October in the history of Victoria, so it’s taking us to a new space.
“It is time for Victorians to be very clear about what they need to do, the practical steps to clean up and do their fire prevention works.”
Mr Lapsley said the early start to the bushfire season would test emergency services but assured Victorians that fire authorities were prepared, with 12 aircraft brought in early and stationed across the state.
With no rain forecast, Mr Lapsley said October weather would cause the state to dry-out, fuelling the potential for more bushfires. He said the conditions were being fuelled by the weather cycle El Nino.
But, evacuated Benloch resident Debbie Garner said she did not know if she had a home to return to, and was angered by DELWP to conduct a planned burn on Friday.
“They started this and they really need to be held to account for this because they are ruining people’s lives,” Ms Garner said.
“They did this a few years ago when we lived in Lancefield and it got out of control and it was burning for three days.”
With the onset on bushfires earlier than normal, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews warned people to be prepared.
“The way we will save lives, the way we will minimise damage property (is to prepare),” Mr Andrews said.
“It is going to be a long, hot, dry and dangerous summer … a very dangerous fire season.”
A large air tanker was on its way from Richmond RAAF base in Sydney to help tackle the fire.
Mr Lapsley urged residents in the Lancefield area to heed emergency warnings and decide whether they are in a position to stay on their properties or leave.
As a dry, blustery cool change swept through Victoria, Mr Lapsley said there had been about 100 fires across Victoria on Tuesday.
Animal shelter, Edgar’s Mission, posted on Facebook that it was close to the blaze and enacting its emergency fire plan. By Tuesday night the mission was deemed safe.
Emergency warnings issued for Nar Nar Goon, south-east of Melbourne and Koorlong, south-west of Mildura, have been downgraded to watch and act alerts.
Another watch and act alert warning was issued for a fire in Yellingbo, east of Melbourne.
Country Fire Authority Deputy Chief Officer John Haynes said firefighters hoped to contain the fires on Wednesday.
“The wind will drop and we’ll get high humidity and that’ll slow the fire spread down,” he said.
“It’ll assist the firefighters to get closer to the fire and hopefully we’ll be able to contain them sometime today.”
— Peta Carlyon (@peta_carlyon) October 6, 2015
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) confirmed a large bushfire burning at Ballard, north of Toowoomba, no longer posed a threat to property.
A watch and act warning, which encouraged residents to enact their bushfire survival plan, has been downgraded to an ddvice warning.
About 17 fire crews and water bombing aircraft had been working to contain the blaze, which broke out about 1:15pm.
— Tara Miko (@Tara_Miko) October 6, 2015
New South Wales
Firefighters said they were gaining control of a bushfire south of Bredbo in southern New South Wales that could spread quickly if it gets into fields of dry weeds.
The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) downgraded the alert level from watch and act to advice for the fire, which is west of the Murrumbidgee River.
The fire had so far burned 20 hectares of grassland near the Monaro Highway.
But RFS Cooma spokesman Chris Allen said the western and northern edges were now contained.
Meanwhile in Tasmania, favourable conditions have eased the stress on firefighters, but emergency services warn there could be more to come with worsening conditions later in the week.
On Monday, the state’s firefighters battled 20 bushfires in mostly remote areas after unusually hot conditions brought the fire season on early.
At least one home was lost in the blaze and the state’s entire north-west has been issued a total fire ban.
Tasmania Fire Service chief Gavin Freeman told Sky News he has never seen such hot and dry conditions this early in spring.
Cooler weather conditions have slowed a bushfire burning through bushland on Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.
The fire started on Saturday after a scheduled burn-off crossed control lines in the Lincoln National Park and has since burnt more than more than 620 hectares.
CFS crews said they would continue to monitor hot spots overnight, but the fire was likely to be declared contained on Wednesday.
For more information visit your state’s emergency website and local firefighter sites, and tune in to designated emergency broadcasters ABC radio and Sky News.
– with agencies and reporting by Rose Donohoe and Anthony Colangelo