Bushfire emergencies in Victoria’s east are threatening homes and lives as the state experiences a day of extreme fire weather, with temperatures already rising above 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of the state.
Seven emergency warnings are in place for out-of-control bushfires in East Gippsland, near Tambo Crossing, Suggan Buggan, Buchan, Bruthen, Wingan River, Goongerah and Wulgulmerang.
Firefighters have been pulled away from fighting forest fires in the area to protect properties, ahead of unpredictable fire conditions forecast for the afternoon.
There is a total fire ban in place for the entire state.
Shortly after 1:00pm, the Princes Highway was closed between Cann River and Genoa, near the New South Wales border.
The highway is the main road in and out of the remote East Gippsland region and authorities warned there was the potential for further road closures.
On Sunday, thousands of holidaymakers were told to evacuate East Gippsland due to fears the highway could close and trap anyone left in the area.
Parts of the Great Alpine and Bonang roads were closed on Sunday.
Authorities said 16 new fires were started by lightning strikes overnight.
The fire danger today is rated as extreme in the Mallee, Wimmera, south-west, central, north-central and Northern Country districts, and severe for East Gippsland and the north-east.
“This is a high-risk day for Victoria,” the state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
“This is a day we do not often see. Our state is dry, it is going to be very hot, it is going to be very windy.”
Melbourne was forecast to reach a top of 43 degrees, Mildura and Swan Hill in the state’s north-west are expected to reach 45 degrees, and Shepparton is expected to reach 43degrees.
By 12:30pm, Mildura in the state’s north west and Orbost in East Gippsland had both reached 42 degrees.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said fire conditions would be made more dangerous by a wind change which would move across the state this afternoon and evening.
“Today … is probably one of the higher risk days we’ve had for some time and comparable almost to Black Saturday, in some ways, if the forecast does eventuate,” Gippsland fires incident controller Ben Rankin said.
Paramedics renewed their pleas to not leave people in hot cars, with Ambulance Victoria confirming two children and a woman in her 70s were hospitalised during Sunday’s hot weather.
Extreme heat timetables are in place for the state’s regional train service, V/Line, and trams are running to a Saturday timetable.
Very hot conditions today with much of the state, including #Melbourne, expected to top 40 degrees. #Extreme Fire Dangers for most of #Victoria. Watch for @CFA_Updates at https://t.co/bVu55NoHpJ Full forecast at https://t.co/jX3G1WQqAb pic.twitter.com/VdS1HG7Wzv
— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) December 29, 2019
There are more than 10 fires currently burning in East Gippsland, including three large fires that started in late November.
Emergency-level blaze making its own weather
An out-of-control bushfire near Wulgulmerang is threatening homes and lives and was upgraded to an emergency warning shortly after 11:00am.
Residents in Gelantipy, Wulgulmerang and Wulgulmerang East were told “it is too late to leave, this fire is moving rapidly”.
A fire near Mallacoota began generating its own weather last night, the dots indicate lightning from a pyrocumulonimbus cloud with plume to 14km. More dangerous fire behaviour is expected across #Victoria today. Stay up to date with forecasts and warnings: https://t.co/DDRfwBegeY pic.twitter.com/lmQrpL40YJ
— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) December 29, 2019
An emergency-level bushfire at Wingan River, near Mallacoota in the state’s far east, started on Sunday and increased rapidly in size overnight to reach the coast.
Authorities said it travelled more than 20 kilometres within five hours overnight.
Residents and holidaymakers in Furnell, Tamboon, Tamboon South and Wingan River have been told it is too late to leave.
“That fire is currently generating its own weather,” State Control Centre spokesman Luke Heagarty said early this morning.
“Which means lightning strikes, variable winds, so that’s going to be a very challenging fire for our firefighters today, on top of the existing fires that we had in East Gippsland.”
Bushfires that have been burning near Ensay and Tambo Crossing since late November have joined at the southern end and are burning out of control, threatening homes and lives.
An emergency warning for that blaze is in place for Reedy Flat, Tambo Crossing, Wattle Circle and Ensay South.
A fire near Bruthen that has been burning since November is out-of-control and travelling towards Ramrod Creek.
Residents were told shortly after 1:00pm to leave before conditions become too dangerous.
Fire activity has increased at a blaze near Buchan and an emergency warning was issued for Buchan, Buchan South and Sunny Point about 1:50pm.
An emergency warning was issued at 11:36am for a fire north of Suggan Buggan that is threatening homes and lives as it travels south.
“The fire is becoming increasingly active,” the warning said.
An emergency-level bushfire west of the remote community of Goongerah is threatening homes and lives at Goongerah, Martins Creek, Nurran, Sardine Creek and Errinundra.
Several other watch and act warnings are in place for the state’s east, and advice-level blazes are burning in the west.
In Melbourne’s north, a bushfire burning in parklands in Mill Park prompted an advice warning for the suburbs of Bundoora, Mill Park and Plenty.
‘Not a mass exodus’ despite widespread evacuation warning
Yesterday’s evacuation warning for East Gippsland included an estimated 30,000 people holidaying in the threatened area.
“We really are very concerned about what these fires might do today under the conditions we’ve predicted,” Mr Heagarty said.
Despite the warnings, many residents and tourists chose to stay in the Lakes Entrance area on Sunday.
Mr Crisp said although a significant number of people left yesterday, there were “a lot of holidaymakers still in East Gippsland”.
“It’s not a mass exodus,” the Mayor of East Gippsland, John White, told RN Breakfast.
Cr White, a grazier and long-term resident of the area, said he had never seen East Gippsland so dry.
“We’ve never ever had all of our surface water disappear as it has,” he said.
“Three-and-a-half years of getting drier and drier and the landscape is totally parched. And that’s why we’re in such a crisis at the moment.”
Extreme heat also forced Falls Festival organisers to cancel the annual Lorne event yesterday.
About 9,000 people were forced to pack up and leave the area, just a day after arriving.