Authorities have again warned that the central Victorian region is under threat from potential fire this weekend.
Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the highest risk area for fire would be the area from Melbourne to Echuca.
“Through the outer metropolitan areas, central Victoria, northern Victoria and all of western Victoria is the highest area of risk,” he said.
“The most elevated risk – due to the temperatures, the types of fuel conditions and the weather – is in western and central Victoria.
“One of the key issues on Saturday is that it will be a hot, dry and windy day.”
The warning comes 12 months after emergency authorities singled out the strip of land between Melbourne and Echuca as being most at risk from devastating bushfires.
Commissioner Lapsley said in the past seven days, emergency crews have experienced 25 grass and bush fires per day.
“That’s with mild conditions, no strong winds, just nice days. What that confirms to us is the fuels are dry,” he said.
“The grass and and forests are dry enough to carry fires.
“You add a hot day tomorrow, a dry and windy day means the potential for erratic fire behaviour and intense fires in those locations.”
Victorians are urged to make calculated and responsible decisions.
“Responsible decision making is key,” Commissioner Lapsley said. “It’s about being measured and calculated in the decision you make for your safety and other people’s safety.”
Commissioner Lapsley said the anticipated wind change was a key element for the day.
The wind change is expected in central Victoria between 4pm and 5pm on Saturday.
“It’s a key safety issue for firefighters but for a community it changes the direction of a fire,” he said.
“If we have a fire in the afternoon being fuelled by a north-westerly wind, which is where the wind will start, and that wind turns to the west or south west it changes the progression of a fire.
Truly bizarre!— 3AW Melbourne (@3AW693) January 5, 2018
Traffic is crawling on the Hume Freeway near Broadford because it is MELTING!? pic.twitter.com/vBrFXcRDEX
“(That wind) will move across the state and we expect it to be in central Victoria and out metropolitan areas in the afternoon.
“That means we will have a wind change in the highest populated area, at the hottest part of the day, which means it will be a very risky period.”
Commissioner Lapsley said fire crews were in a good position with no significant fires running.
“We will have fires (Friday) afternoon but believe the conditions this afternoon will allow us to get in control of those as they start,” he said.
“That means we will hopefully start tomorrow with no fires of any significance running anywhere in the state. That’s a good place to be.
“From then you have full capability of Forest Fire Victoria, CFA and Metropolitan Fire Brigades as well as full fleet of 49 aircraft – an increase of aircraft we had last year.”
Three Incident Control Centres set up in central Victoria
EMERGENCY services across the region are prepared for the extreme weather condition forecast this weekend.
Three Incident Control Centres have been set up in the Loddon Mallee region – one in Bendigo, one in Mildura and on in Gisborne.
A Regional Control Centre has also been setup in Queen Street.
Loddon Mallee regional controller Mark Cattell said emergency services began planning for the control centres late last week.
“We had an indication that there was going to be a spike day in the weather on Saturday,” he said.
“From there we began discussing (plans) and by Monday had determined that it would mean extreme fire danger in the Mallee and Wimmera regions and severe conditions in most other regions.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in how bad things could get and from there have set up Incident Control Centres in those three areas.
“We have a standard operating procedure that determines if the fire danger is at a certain level, we need that readiness.”
Mr Cattell said more than 40 incident control centres were set up across the state.
“We will be in place from 10am and given the information we have, we are looking at being set up for about 14 hours,” he said.
Low to mid-40s temperatures expected for Victoria
The Bureau of Meteorology says parts of Victoria will face severe and extreme fire danger periods over the weekend.
A heatwave is expected to arrive on Saturday with temperatures in the low to mid 40s set for most of Victoria. Bendigo is forecast to reach 42 degrees.
Acting manager of the BOM extreme weather desk James Taylor said fire dangers were a particular concern this weekend.
“Severe to extreme fire dangers are set for western Victoria,” he said. “Any fires that start in that area will be difficult to suppress. People need to be aware of their local conditions.”
Mr Taylor said the heatwave will move across Victoria on Saturday before a cool change arrives in the evening.
He advised people to stay up to date with weather conditions and warnings via www.bom.gov.au
VicRoads caution drivers to take care in heat
VicRoads is urging drivers to take care while driving in extreme heat.
Drivers are advised to keep up to date with traffic and weather conditions as well as not taking unnecessary trips in adverse conditions.
If you must travel on days of extreme weather, inform someone of which route you plan to take and how long you think it will take to arrive at your destination and carry plenty of fresh drinking water.
Never leave children or pets unattended in a car as temperatures rise to dangerous levels quickly.
While travelling, children and pets require additional precautions to protect them. Consider using rear window shades and remember that the back seat and cargo areas can be considerably warmer than the front-seat area.
Vehicle breakdowns are more likely to occur in extreme heat.
CrimeStoppers warn against breaking Total Fire Ban
High fire dangers have also prompted Crime Stoppers to warn people considering breaking the total fire ban.
Crime Stoppers is urging Victorians to look out for anyone disobeying total fire ban restrictions, including lighting fires in the open air or carrying out hot work such as welding or grinding.
“People that choose to ignore total fire bans are putting our communities at risk. We urge anyone with information about illegal or reckless fire activity to please report it to Crime Stoppers,” Crime Stoppers Victoria general manager Cathy Rhodes said.
Penalties for causing a bushfire include up to 15 years in prison or fines of over $36,000. The maximum penalty for arson resulting in death is 25 years in prison.
The story Fire conditions leave central Victoria at severe risk this weekend first appeared on Bendigo Advertiser.