No one died in Victoria’s Christmas Day bushfires – that’s the message being hammered home to coastal residents told to evacuate before extreme fire danger on New Year’s Eve.
Police have gone door-to-door in Kennett River, Grey River and Wongarra on the Great Ocean Road, telling locals to get out by Thursday morning.
They’re in the path of the bushfire that has already destroyed 116 homes in Wye River and Separation Creek and is set to spark up again in 40C heat.
“Life must come first,” incident controller Alistair Drayton told 500 people at an Apollo Bay community meeting on Wednesday.
“I can’t afford to lose any one of you.”
While residents cannot be forced to leave their homes, Environment Minister Lisa Neville urged them to heed the warnings.
“What we saw over Christmas Day was a really well executed evacuation plan and it was about saving lives,” she told reporters.
Residents have been given blue tape to tie to their house to let police know they have left.
Bulldozers are building new control lines around Kennett River and a thick line of fire retardant has been dropped south of Lorne.
“The fire went to sleep, that’s the best analogy I can give you,” Mr Drayton said.
“With the warming weather today [Wednesday] and increasing winds tomorrow, that fire will wake up in certain areas.”
Mr Drayton said he was preparing for the bushfire to run again.
“I hope I’m wrong but what we’ve seen over the last few days is what the fire has the potential to do,” he said.
“If the fire doesn’t run tomorrow I will allow people back in.
“I will try to return everyone back into Wye River by Saturday.”
If the forecast conditions do not eventuate on Thursday, Kennett River, Grey River and Wongarra residents will only be evacuated for 12 hours and be able to return at 10pm.
Those residents also evacuated on Christmas Day when the blaze came within 500 metres of Kennett River, which lies near the southern part of the fire.
“We’re concentrating all of our efforts around the southern edge, working around to the west and from the northern edge working around to the west,” Mr Drayton said.
The Great Ocean Road has been closed between Lorne and Skene’s Creek since Christmas and will stay so until early January.