Australia

Victoria’s bushfires expected to burn for weeks as authorities cop flak

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Fires have ripped through Victoria, destroying homes and putting thousands of firefighters under pressure.

A bushfire victim who fled flames as his house "melted" and was left with just the clothes on his back has criticised fire authorities for their inaction.

Rex Newton is frustrated CFA crews did not help when fire bore down on his Tonimbuk home during weekend blazes that swept south east Victoria.

"There was trucks sitting 450 metres away from my place doing nothing. Not one thing. They came in yesterday putting out spot fires, which you could put out with a cup of tea," he told Nine's Today program on Tuesday.

Changing weather conditions in Victoria are both helping and hindering bushfire fighting efforts.
Changing weather conditions in Victoria are both helping and hindering bushfire fighting efforts.
AAP

"The local chaps that have been fighting fires all their life around this area weren't allowed to do anything. With the unions, they can't."

Winemaker Andrew Clarke, who watched his bar, gallery and home of 40 years burn in the Bunyip state park fire on Sunday, says he had asked authorities for years to do backburns.

"I honestly believe if they had done a lot more work as the (Black Saturday) royal commission recommended, this wouldn't have been as disastrous," he told Nine's Today program.

There were hazard reduction burns in the Bunyip state park during 2008, 2012 and 2016, the state government says.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the weekend fires were so fierce, previous burn offs did not slow it down.

A spot fire on the Bunyip side of the Princes Highway in Victoria.
A spot fire on the Bunyip side of the Princes Highway in Victoria.
AAP

"There has been extensive backburning done around the Bunyip state forest where there were conditions that made it safe to do so," Mr Andrews said in response to Mr Clarke's comments.

"The strength of the fires that we have seen in the last few days meant that that fire either went through or went over the fire breaks that had been built over the last couple of years."

Emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said planned burns were not the "panacea" to preventing future fires.

"Planned burns can do some work in terms of slowing down the spread and the severity, but it is not the ... cure-all," Mr Crisp told the Nine Network.

He denied lessons of Black Saturday had been ignored, adding the opportunity for planned burns is limited, particularly in Gippsland with record low rainfall over the last two years.

Thirty-six fires burn statewide, with four large ones, including Dargo, Licola, Yinnar and Bunyip, causing the main concern.

Helicopters drop water on a bushfire near Yiinnar in Gippsland, Victoria.
Helicopters drop water on a bushfire near Yiinnar in Gippsland, Victoria.
AAP

While conditions have eased, it will take days to contain the fires and weeks to extinguish them unless there's significant rain, but none is forecast, Chris Eagle from Forest Fire Management Victoria told ABC TV.

Mr Eagle said crews are working to build lines around the Bunyip fire and some residents may be able to return home on Tuesday afternoon.

Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien questioned whether the government has dropped the ball with planned burns.

Cooler temperatures may bring welcome relief to the more than 2000 firefighters, but a thunderstorm risk for the state's east could spark more blazes.

So far nine structures, including at least two homes, have been destroyed by the latest bushfires.

THE BIGGEST FIRES

* Bunyip State Park - 14,000ha

* Licola - 18,000ha

* Dargo 12,000ha

* Yinnar South 1800ha

CONFIRMED HOMES LOST

* Bunyip State Park - 7

* Yinnar South - 2

RESOURCES

* More than 2000 firefighters

* About 80 aircraft

* 400 police doorknocking for evacuations

* 330 community warnings

* 57 emergency warnings

* 1200 people displaced to relief centres

WEATHER FORECAST

* WEDNESDAY: Scattered showers over southern and mountain districts. Isolated thunderstorms in the far east, clearing during the early morning. Isolated thunderstorms along the southwest coast during the afternoon. Local hail in the south during the morning and afternoon. A cool and partly cloudy day with moderate to fresh southwesterly winds.

* THURSDAY: Partly cloudy at first in the south, otherwise a dry and mild to warm day with light winds and afternoon coastal seabreezes.

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