Bushfires: 10 homes lost in Victoria before cool change sweeps through

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Residents in areas surrounding the Barnawartha blaze told to evacuate and a fire in NSW breaks containment lines

and agencies

First published on Sat 19 Dec 2015 16.42 EST

Ten homes have been destroyed in Victoria’s southwest and a community in the north remained under threat from a fire near the New South Wales border.

Residents in the state’s north were on high alert for most of the day as an out of control fire burnt in the Barnawartha area. A cool change brought relief on Sunday evening.

It was not known whether any homes had been lost in Barnawartha blaze which burned throughout Sunday.

A large bushfire raging through thick scrub north of Newcastle broke containment lines on Sunday afternoon as crews battled dozens of blazes across the state in hot, dry conditions.

The fire had burnt 350ha hectares of scrub near the Williamtown Airport.

People living along Nelson Bay Road between Richardson Road and Medowie Road were warned to be vigilant against embers, after the blaze “spotted” across its southern lines.

Smoke forced the closure of Nelson Bay Road and Medowie Road at around 1pm on Sunday, with firefighters working to contain the blaze as a “watch and act” alert was issued.

A burnt out area from a bushfire near Scotsburn, Victoria, on Sunday.
A burnt out area from a bushfire near Scotsburn, Victoria, on Sunday. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

Ten homes had been confirmed lost in Victoria on Sunday afternoon, another two damaged and 23 sheds destroyed, by a fire that took residents by surprise at Scotsburn, near Ballarat on Saturday.

Graeme Baxter from the state control centre said the threat to Scotsburn had eased, but the fire had left a big impact on a small community.

“The speed at which this sort of fire can travel can be quite frightening,” Baxter said.

The emergency management commissioner, Craig Lapsley, earlier said the volatile conditions at Scotsburn caught many off guard.

Three CFA crews, in two separate incidents, were lucky to escape when their vehicles became trapped when a storm cell ran into the smoke plume at Scotsburn, pushing the fire to the west while the winds came from the north.

“That actually caught firefighters out,” Lapsley said.

The trapped crews activated the sprinklers over the trucks and huddled under fire retardant blankets until the danger had passed.

It’s believed the Scotsburn fire was started by a spark from machinery operating in a paddock.

The change brought relief to much of the state and conditions are expected to settle for the next few days.

“It’s time to draw a breath,” Baxter said. “Things will be much calmer and cooler.”

Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, applauded firefighting efforts and said this weekend was another example of fire crews putting their lives on the line to protect Victorians.

“Those firefighters came out safe,” Andrews said. “The protocols worked and in a great symbol of what our volunteers and career firefighters mean, what they are really about, those firefighters were back on the fireground just a short while later.”

Firefighters responded to 43 grass and bushfires across NSW on Sunday as hot, dry and windy conditions from South Australia and Victoria pushed north.

Total fire bans were issued for eight areas across southern and western NSW as well as the ACT, with severe fire danger ratings in place across the same regions.

Jane Garrett, Victoria’s emergency services minister, said veterinarians had been sent out to help farmers assess their stock losses, as well as treat any injured wildlife. She said one of the properties damaged was a horse stud, and additional vets were helping the owners “with what is a very traumatic time”.

Garrett said initial emergency relief payments of $1,300, and grants of up to $32,000, had been made available to affected people through relief centres a Buninyong and Ballan.

Firefighters attempting to contain a bushfire near Scotsburn on Sunday.
Firefighters attempting to contain a bushfire near Scotsburn before Sunday’s extreme heat set in. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

Victoria police have also charged a 34-year-old man with conduct endangering life for allegedly lighting a fire near Epping, in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, one of 300 fires to start around the state on Saturday. He was remanded in custody and will face court on Monday.

Meanwhile, Adelaide was finally starting to cool down following a record run of temperatures above 40C. On Saturday temperatures in the city peaked at 43.2C at 4pm but by that evening the mercury was descending, although remaining in the high 30s during the start of the expected cool change.

Saturday was the fourth consecutive day where the mercury topped 40C and the blistering conditions have been blamed on a stationary high pressure system in the Tasman Sea which has been dragging hot air from the centre of Australia. Some crops were destroyed as 15 fires burnt, started by lightning strikes.

A resident gives a drink to a wild heat-stressed koala in her backyard on Saturday in Adelaide, Australia.
A resident gives a drink to a wild heat-stressed koala in her backyard on Saturday in Adelaide, Australia. Photograph: Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

Country Fire Service spokesman Mark Wheeler said a cool change arrived in the early hours of Sunday, with temperatures dropping significantly and rain falling across the state.

“There are no fire events to speak of at the moment,” Wheeler said. “We effectively dodged a bullet yesterday.”

Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

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