Bushfires are continuing to threaten communities in eastern Victoria, with at least nine structures, including homes, already destroyed.
The Bunyip fire, about 65 kilometres east of Melbourne, was downgraded on Sunday night, but not before it had burned more than 10,000 hectares and destroyed at least seven structures.
Meanwhile, a new emergency alert was issued for a bushfire at Dargo in Gippsland, in eastern Victoria, on Monday. People in a host of towns were told it was too late to leave and they must take shelter.
Authorities have confirmed at least nine structures have been damaged – including two at another blaze at Yinnar South. It was not clear how many of these were homes.
One of those most affected was winemaker Andrew Clarke. He and his family fled the Bunyip fire only to see television footage of their wine bar, gallery and accommodation burning down on Sunday.
“I don’t want to see the devastation, but I am going to have to face up to it, we lost our entire … it is my life’s work and we have lost our cellar door, which we built over many years,” Mr Clarke told Nine’s Today program on Monday.
“I suppose everyone can imagine seeing your house go up in flames, I mean with all your clothes in it – you don’t realise what possessions you have got until they are gone. It is all gone.”
More than 2,000 firefighters have been working around the clock to get this situation under control. Hour after hour, day after day, we've seen their skill, professionalism and bravery on display. To all our emergency workers, on behalf of a grateful state – thank you. pic.twitter.com/ps1AWbO8wj
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) March 4, 2019
Mr Clarke said he had just bought equipment from Germany to brew beer and the roof of his winery had caved in. He must now wait to find out if any of his half-a-million dollars worth of gear is salvageable.
“My insurance won’t cover it, there is no way. My livelihood’s in tatters,” he said.
“I don’t have any way of earning any money, I don’t know what to do, I have got to support my family, so I’m stuffed pretty much.”
Elsewhere, cooler temperatures and a weaker-than-expected wind change helped firefighters in their battle against the destructive blazes across Victoria’s east.
The Yinnar South fire was also downgraded late on Monday morning, but residents were warned not to be complacent.
“A ‘watch and act’ [advisory] is still an active fire,” Emergency Management Victoria commissioner Andrew Crisp told ABC radio.
Fire crews – including about 600 firefighters – planned to spend Monday assessing damaged properties and letting some residents return to check their homes.
The fires have sparked widespread school, TAFE and childcare centre closures and bus service cancellations. The Princes Highway was closed east of Melbourne on Monday morning.
Wilsons Promontory National Park was closed on Monday afternoon, and will remain off-limits to campers until further notice.
Alerts also remain in place for areas further north-east, including at Licola.
Smoke visible across #Gippsland thanks to fires in #Victoria's east, with #BunyipFire producing a significant pyrocumulus cloud as well. Please stay safe & check your latest emergency services sites for the latest updates. https://t.co/7TgIuTLi2B @vicemergency @CFA_Updates pic.twitter.com/6eBwG5iKEy
— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) March 3, 2019
Despite the cooler morning, firefighters expected more lightning, which could spark more fires.
“There’s still some instability across a lot of northern and eastern Victoria,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s Michael Efron said.
“This morning we have observed lightning up in the Mallee and there is a potential for further storms extending into north-western Victoria, as well as the Gippsland high country.”
On Tuesday, a cold front starting in the state’s south-west is likely to reach Melbourne later in the day. Strong winds and possible showers will move across Victoria into Wednesday.
— ABC Emergency (@ABCemergency) March 3, 2019
Mr Clarke blamed the fires on a lack of Parks Victoria burn-offs in the area.
“The ferocity of that fire wouldn’t have been as much if they had been doing what they are meant to do,” Mr Clarke said.
Tonimbuk resident Karen also lost her home and backed Mr Clarke’s claim of little being done about fire management in the state park.
“No one’s done anything out there for years,” she told ABC Radio.
“I had a notice on my now-non-existent fridge that was telling us, ‘Oh we’re going to do a fuel reduction burn’, just up the road from us.
“That was a year ago at least and the fuel was sitting there, nothing done, nothing, so all that wildlife, that’s all dead º all those echidnas, all those kangaroos, all those deer, all those koalas, all those goannas that we look at all the time.”