January 2 2015
– Residents in the Victorian town of Moyston were warned on Friday it was too late for them to flee from an out-of-control fire that was moving towards the area.
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) issued an emergency warning for Moyston, a town of about 350 people approximately 220km north-west of Melbourne.
A fast-moving grass fire was heading south-east along the Better Route Road towards Moyston, the CFA said.
Moyston residents were contacted by phone to tell them it was too late to leave town and to take shelter indoors “immediately”. A number of local roads were closed.
The Victorian State Control Centre was unable to confirm reports a house near the town had been destroyed.
For those who managed to escape the path of the fire, a relief centre was set up at the Ararat town hall, on the corner of Barkly and Vincent streets. Ararat is about 15km east of Moyston.
“The threat is imminent and the fire is very fast-moving,” a CFA spokeswoman told Guardian Australia.
Eleven water-bombing aircraft and 45 fire trucks were trying to bring the blaze under control.
On Friday afternoon two emergency warnings were also issued for fires in South Australia.
An out-of-control bushfire was threatening lives at Tantanoola in South Australia’s Lower South East region. The blaze, near Mile Hill Road and the Overland Track Diagonal Road, was burning in a forest in a south-easterly direction towards The Bluff and the Princes Highway. The Country Fire Service said the fire may travel towards the town of Glencoe as the wind swings westerly and there was a risk to lives and homes.
A bushfire at Humbug Scrub in the state’s Mount Lofty Ranges was also burning out of control and threatening lives. The Sampson Flat scrub fire, near Kersbrook Road, was travelling in an easterly direction towards Kersbrook-Forest Road and Devil’s Gully Road. There was a risk to lives and homes, the CFS said.
Residents who were not prepared to actively defend their homes were told to leave if the path was clear, before conditions become too dangerous. Only homes that were actively defended and constructed to withstand a bushfire may provide safety, the CFS said.
Victoria is at a heightened risk of bushfire due to soaring temperatures, high winds and possible lightning strikes over the coming days. Temperatures in parts of the state edged over 40C on Friday, with national parks closed down due to the threat of fire.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said the state was expecting some “very, very difficult days” and urged the public to look after vulnerable people and children.
“Make no excuses, it is simply unacceptable to leave a child in a car for any period of time on days as hot as the next two,” he said.
“Our emergency services do an outstanding job. They’re ready, they’re well-practised. In these extreme conditions, it’s up to every single Victorian to do the right thing, the smart thing.”
Emergency management commissioner Craig Lapsley said high overnight temperatures were expected to create even worse fire conditions on Saturday.
“Be attuned for the 48 hours, be attuned about what happens overnight and make sure you understand that it’s not just going to be fires that run in the daylight hours,” Lapsley said on Friday.
He told Victorians to monitor several forms of emergency information to ensure they didn’t miss important information in the early hours of Saturday.
Temperatures were tipped to stay as high as 28c overnight, before hitting 39c in Melbourne and more than 40c in regional areas on Saturday.
Early on Friday morning police arrested a woman over a fire believed to have been deliberately lit in Tatura.
Fire crews were called to a grass fire on Craven Road, near the Midland Highway, about 3.20am. The fire was extinguished without incident.
Later on Friday morning, a 49-year-old Tatura woman was arrested by detectives from the arson and explosives squad..
Police were investigating a similar grass fire that broke out around the same time on 30 December, and a series of at least 40 grass fires near Tatura over the past year.
Tatura is a cattle-farming centre 160km north of Melbourne. It has a population of about 4,500.
Detective acting senior sergeant Eric Harbis from the arson and explosive squad said it was lucky there were no injuries or property damage from Friday’s fire.
“As we head into the higher temperatures this weekend we are really calling on members of the community to be vigilant and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity with regards to fires,” he said. “These acts can devastate communities so if you see something, say something.”
Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity or who has information about fires is asked to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or file a confidential report at http://www.crimestoppers.com.au.
– Oliver Milman & Ben Doherty