Firefighters have braved unpredictable and disastrous conditions to bring bushfires across Victoria under control, helped by a much-needed cool change.
Blazes in the west and north-east of the state plagued crews in Victoria in recent days, with the CFA confirming on Monday that 13 homes had been lost in the state.
Emergency services in New South Wales, Tasmania and the ACT also battled fires in dangerous conditions.
At least three crews, in two separate incidents, survived burnovers (when a fire passes directly over a vehicle while the occupants are inside) at the 4600-hectare Scotsburn fire, near Ballarat in Victoria, which was brought under control by 8pm on Sunday.
They were lucky to escape when their vehicles became trapped as a storm cell ran into the smoke plume at Scotsburn, pushing the fire to the west while the winds came from the north.
“Very rarely do burnovers happen,” Nipper Turner, a rural Victorian fire captain, told The New Daily.
“The winds in there would be very uncontrollable, hot, very uncomfortable and a place where you really don’t want to be.
“It is basically a last-resort survival mode.
“You train for it, but it is a place where you really don’t want to be.”
Emergency warnings in Barnawartha, Indigo Upper, Indigo Valley, Levena and Levena West have been downgraded to watch and act.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews praised the firefighters for their work and said it was a “great symbol of what our volunteers and career firefighters mean” that the crews later returned to the fire ground.
The fire narrowly avoided the site of a wedding, planned to take place at Galwiji Homestead in Scotsburn.
Carli and Ennis Cehic were forced to move their special event as flames approached the homestead.
Guests were already assembled when someone pointed out the smoke, at that stage just a small plume in the distance.
But within 15 minutes the flames were so close the 170 guests were forced to evacuate the site, and the bride and groom to be had to move to plan B.
“I was on my way and the fire blew through in front of us, I couldn’t get through to the wedding,” Carli told News Corp.
“They thought I was running late.”
Within an hour the wedding was relocated to the local pub, where the determined pair tied the knot.
A large bushfire burning out of control near Ballarat claimed 12 homes and a further 30 farm buildings before being brought under control, authorities said.
A CFA spokesperson said they had been unable to confirm what ignited the Scotsburn fire, but it was believed to have started on private land.
According to the CFA, in addition to the 12 homes that were destroyed, two properties were rendered uninhabitable, two were damaged but still liveable and 30 sheds were destroyed.
It was brought under control late on Sunday, but crews continued to patrol the fire area.
Work continued at the Midland Highway, which was expected to be opened only to through traffic on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, a 34-year-old man was arrested about 12.50pm on Saturday after a blaze moved through sheds and farming equipment at Epping, Victoria.
Glen Boland, 34, was remanded in custody when he faced the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Sunday.
He argued he did not start the blaze and was in fact attempting to extinguish it, 9news.com.au reported.
Police allege the fire was started by cigarette butts found metres from his camp site.
‘We dodged a bullet’
In Tasmania, a cold front has doused authorities fears of out-of-control blazes in the island state.
Early on Sunday, fire crews battled several fires, with the most serious near Dover, south of Hobart.
Despite some locations recording record high temperatures, and crews on high alert as a result, the outlook was more positive by the afternoon.
“We definitely dodged a bullet,” Tasmanian Fire Service regional fire controller Mark Dobson told the ABC.
“I guess that can be attributable to the weather conditions, certainly in some areas, not reaching what it was anticipated to be.”
Photo of the Indigo Valley fire from Wooragee. pic.twitter.com/1P2fpoh1z7
— Marli Tapsall (@MarliTapsall) December 20, 2015