The death toll from Victoria’s bushfire crisis has risen to four after a firefighter died battling a blaze in the state’s alpine region.
The Forest Fire Management Victoria firefighter from Parks Victoria was killed while battling a blaze in the Omeo area on Saturday, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp confirmed.
“Family and fellow emergency personnel are being informed and will be supported,” Forest Fires Management Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said in a statement.
“The safety and wellbeing of our people is our highest priority.”
The firefighter’s death will be investigated by Victoria Police, who will prepare a report for the coroner.
It comes after another Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died on duty when his vehicle crashed on the Goulburn Valley Highway on January 3.
Mick Roberts from Buchan and Maramingo Creek man Fred Becker were also killed in the fires at East Gippsland on New Year’s Day.
The fire-ravaged south coast of NSW is ‘open for business’ again as towns urge tourists to visit their communities and inject money into local economies.
The NSW Rural Fire Service on Saturday afternoon declared the region south of Sydney safe to visit since the devastating New Year’s Even fires.
People are being urged to ring ahead and confirm with accommodation providers before leaving home.
“After assessments today, it has been decided that visitors may now return to areas of the Shoalhaven & South Coast,” the RFS said in Twitter.
“People wishing to take advantage of the tourist areas are advised to contact their destination before setting off.”
Many roads have re-opened to areas such as Batemans Bay, Ulladulla an Shoalhaven, enabling visitors from Sydney to plan a getaway.
A visitor leave zone remains in place for the Snowy Monaro region, where the Adaminaby Complex fires continue to burn out of control.
Meanwhile in Victoria it could be weeks before tourists are invited back to the Alpine region. Twenty fires still burn in the state although milder conditions are expected over the week ahead.
Flare-ups also continue on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island as authorities attempt to survey the damage.
SOUTH COAST OPEN FOR BUSINESS After assessments today, it has been decided that visitors may now return to areas of the Shoalhaven & South Coast.
People wishing to take advantage of the tourist areas are advised to contact their destination before setting off. #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/4VhRXJibBt
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 11, 2020
Rainfall across eastern Australia was a welcome reprieve for thousands of firefighters, residents, businesses and farms after weeks of bushfire emergencies, but warnings have been issued that the long dangerous bushfire season is not over.
Up to 20mm of rain swept across parts of northern Victoria, NSW and South Australia overnight on Friday, with people waking up to cooler temperatures, the sound of rain and better air quality in some areas on Saturday morning.
However, the Australian Defence Force is positioning itself to respond to deteriorating bushfire conditions forecast for Victoria and South Australia on Tuesday.
Defence Force national bushfire coordinator Major General Jake Ellwood says easing bushfire conditions have helped recovery efforts on Saturday.
“It’s enabled us an opportunity to do the support work we needed to do,” he told reporters.
“Conditions are expected to worsen again in South Australia and Victoria on the 14th [January} and we will position ourself to respond to any contingencies that may arise.”
After 10,000 residents in the Blue Mountains braced for evacuation orders as the Grose Mountain bushfire continued to threaten homes, Mayor Mark Greenhill told the ABC on Saturday he felt better than he had for a while.
“We are not out of the wood yet, but I feel happier this morning than I have for a while,” he said.
And residents in most of Victoria’s bushfire-stricken areas are welcoming the rain after their latest threat on Friday night appeared to have wrought less carnage than feared.
While an emergency warning remains for a fire near Mt Hotham, the government has confirmed the Victorian state of disaster will end at midnight on Saturday.
Firefighters worked through Friday night to contain blazes raging in the alpine and East Gippsland regions, where fire has destroyed 900,000 hectares. A grass fire near Wodonga destroyed two buildings, but that was brought under control.
But authorities stress the danger is far from over as 20 fires burn across the state and 12 watch and act warnings on Saturday afternoon – down from 16 – remain in place.
Even the welcome rain that fell in some areas brings its own problems, with the risk of flash flooding meaning a new deadly risk for firefighters.
Milder conditions are forecast for the next week to 10 days, meaning attention can turn increasingly to recovery and relieving exhausted emergency services workers.
The improved conditions brought relief in towns along the Great Alpine Road, including Bright, which were largely deserted ahead of Friday’s hot weather and gusty late cool change.
Dianne Gibbons, owner of Harrietville’s Bella’s Cafe, had filled wheelie bins and buckets with water and had a sprinkler system ready if embers reached the town on Friday evening.
But she said rain struck at the “just the perfect time”, with the easing of an emergency warning about 11pm allowing them some sleep.
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville and Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Saturday morning that the conditions were varied, noting some of the northeast had received little rain and there were strong southerly winds .
“It is a tale of two states at the moment in terms of temperature and conditions,” Mr Crisp said.
The minister said two fires covering about 800,000 hectares in NSW and northeast Victoria had joined. Meanwhile the East Gippsland fire area covered about 900,000 hectares.
“We’re a long way from the end of this … we have a long to go in terms of our fire season,” the minister said.
NSW blazes continue despite cooler weather
Meanwhile, Victor Peralta and his wife own an art gallery in Katoomba, which is currently surrounded by two massive blazes, and have lived in the region for over 30 years.
He told the ABC it was “jacket weather” on Saturday, although the smoke was still lingering and described the weather as “gorgeous, nice and cool and damp”.
“The town was a little bit more alive today than it was last week, there’s even a bit of traffic on the road,” he said.
Katoomba’s tourism industry has been hit hard in recent weeks, with many businesses losing up to 60 per cent of the visitor numbers.
“It’s been a ghost town for us, this should be the busiest time of the year,” Mr Peralta told the ABC.
The mental and physical cost of bushfires
More than 10 million hectares have been razed in Victoria, South Australia, NSW, Queensland and WA since the bushfire season began.
The fires in Victoria have killed three men, while 286 homes and 400 other buildings have been damaged.
Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died when his vehicle crashed on the Goulburn Valley Highway on January 3.
Mick Roberts from Buchan and Maramingo Creek man Fred Becker were killed in the fires at East Gippsland on New Year’s Day.
As fire-affected communities now take stock, Minister Lisa Neville said the mental toll is a big factor.
“There will be a lot of trauma out there … if you’re struggling, seek help,” she said.
“It will leave a scar for many people.”
For further details on bushfires across eastern Australia, more information can be found at the following emergency services links:
- Live updates Victoria
- Live updates NSW
- Live updates South Australia
- Road closures NSW
- Road closures Victoria
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