Lightning Strikes Set Victoria Ablaze

18:07' 08-03-2019
Lightning strikes on Friday 1 March started a number of bushfires in eastern Victoria, raging for days before a change in the weather brought some relief.

    Photos: Span Hanna, Pakenham

    The main brunt of the fires was felt in the Bunyip area, 65km east of Melbourne, though around 40 other fires sprang up in Gippsland. By Monday morning, the fire had burnt through 12,500 hectares.

    The main highway between Pakenham and Drouin was closed for days, while up to 2000 emergency workers fought the blaze and residents fled their homes.

    As the affected areas are mostly rural, many residents had the additional problem of moving horses and other livestock out of danger.

    Country Fire Authority (CFA) assistant chief officer Trevor Owen said the fires were bigger than the Black Saturday fires of 2009. However, although a number of properties were destroyed, no lives were lost on this occasion.

    A cool change on Monday brought little or no rain, instead there was a wind change which threatened to change the fire front.

    Among properties destroyed was the Jinks Creek Winery. Owner Andrew Clarke told ABC he had lost his livelihood, and said he believed the fire was made worse because there had been no planned burns in the dense bushland behind his property.

    He said he had been begging Forest Fire Management Victoria for 20 years to burn off the state forest there, without success. However, Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said it was not clear if planned burns would have helped.

    In 2010, following the Black Saturday fires, the Bushfire Royal Commission recommended that 5% of Victorian public land be burnt each year, up from less than 2% before. Two years later, the State Government dumped that target in favour of more focused burn-offs closer to communities, and alternative methods like slashing.

    Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said burning off would not have stopped the Bunyip fire.

    A week later, Watch & Act warnings were still in place for Tonimbuk and Tynong.

    Span Hanna





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