Evacuated Great Ocean Road residents are set to return home in time to ring in the New Year after a potential bushfire crisis was averted.
The destructive blaze is still burning but a wind change on Thursday afternoon sent it away from Kennett River, Grey River and Wongarra and back into dense bushland.
About 100 residents were told to get out of those towns by 10am, but the State Control Centre now expects they’ll be allowed back in after 10pm.
“The fire hasn’t come out behind containment lines, it hasn’t come out and run towards those communities and now the wind’s moved away,” Mr Lapsley told ABC TV on Thursday.
The blaze destroyed 116 homes in Wye River and Separation Creek on Christmas Day and it sparked up again in 40C temperatures.
Mr Lapsley said the fire was burning through fuel and sending smoke over Lorne, but the community is not under threat.
“We won’t see the fire move close to Lorne,” he said.
“There’s no need for the Lorne community to evacuate today, that’s not going to happen.”
Incident controller Alistair Drayton praised the public for following fire plans.
“The public’s been exceptional,” he told reporters in Colac.
“We’ve unfortunately lost a number of structures (on Christmas Day) but life is paramount.”
Mr Drayton said the bushfire heated up early on Thursday morning, but it didn’t go anywhere or create the danger that firefighters had feared.
The Otways fire is deep-seated in thick forest, putting out significant heat under the forest canopy and will burn for weeks, Mr Lapsley warned.
“The old foresters are telling us ‘you won’t get it out until there’s significant rain’ so we’ve got this in the bush now for weeks and the conditions we’ve got are forecasts for no rain,” he said.
Mr Lapsley said a number of other fires had sparked across Victoria on New Year’s Eve, in grassland, forest and rocky country.
“The change will move across the state and there will be fires pop up across the state.”
Temperatures would remain high in northern Victoria on Friday, he added.
More than 500 personnel from the CFA, MFB, Parks Victoria and the Department of Environment are working to contain the fire.
Wye River and Separation Creek residents are still waiting to hear when they will be allowed back in. The Great Ocean Road will remain closed until early January.