Bush fires rage in two Australia states as summer temperatures soar

  • In Victoria, dozens of firefighters narrowly escaped after a fire changed direction unpredictably due to high winds
  • In Tasmania, the uncontrolled wilderness bush fire raging in the southwest was expected to continue its fury over the weekend
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 8:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2019, 9:54pm

About 40 firefighters in Australia’s Victoria state had to take life-saving action after an out-of-control blaze switched direction due to a wind change.

Three groups of firefighters were working on the eastern flank of the Rosedale fire in Gippsland on Friday when a predicted wind change occurred, emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Saturday.

The flank became the fire front and raged towards the firefighters, who came out shaken but uninjured by the experience. A fire truck, trailer and bulldozer belonging to Forest Fire Management were burnt out. There will be a review into how the firefighters came to be in harm’s way.

“They found themselves in a very serious situation and they were shaken as a result of it,” Crisp said. “I have spoken to both the chiefs of those organisations, but they’re safe and well and they are being well looked after and we need to and we will learn from this.”

A watch and act alert was in place for residents near Rosedale, in the state’s east, where a fire had been burning on Friday night.

While kite surfers in Port Phillip Bay were taking advantage of the strong winds and choppy conditions on Saturday morning, authorities were scrambling to remove trees that had blown across roads and motorways.

Melbourne was headed for a top of 21 degrees Celsius on Saturday just a day after being belted with scorching heat. Some northern centres reached 46 degrees on Friday before the cool change swept through.

A wind change helped them slow the spread of the fire overnight, but nearby residents were to stay on high alert through Saturday morning. Victoria Police said it was investigating the cause of the Rosedale fire.

The emergency services minister, Lisa Neville, warned on Friday that the “danger period is not over” with scope for more blazes.

In Tasmania, the uncontrolled wilderness bush fire raging in the southwest was expected to continue its fury over the weekend as firefighters fought to put it out.

The Gell river fire, west of the Tasmanian capital, had burned through almost 15,000 hectares of bush but no longer posed an immediate risk to properties, the Tasmania Fire Service said. But residents were warned of a risk of embers from the blaze, burning about 20km northwest of the communities.

Parks and Wildlife Service’s Paul Black said on Friday the fire was expected to subside overnight as the wind change and cold front moved in.

“Over the next couple of days we’ll have a much more moderate fire behaviour, which will give our crews an opportunity to make a very good assessment of what the fire has got to and what our control strategies should be from here on in,” he said. “The area has a significant amount of smoke and cloud over it which makes it difficult to determine that western boundary … but there will be more information coming out about that for 24 hours.”