Evacuees seek refuge in Wangaratta as blazes continue to challenge firefighters
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COOLER temperatures and a bit of rainfall shouldn’t create any complacency among communities across the King and Alpine valleys about the ever present fire danger, authorities have warned.

While firefighters were continuing to battle blazes – particularly the Buffalo River fire that forced evacuations around Nug Nug, destroyed a residence at Lake Buffalo and was spotting into areas of Carboor and Whorouly South yesterday – hundreds of evacuees were taking safe refuge at emergeny relief centres in a smoke englufed Wangaratta.

The message from authorities from Premier Daniel Andrews – who visited Wangaratta briefly yesterday – to those on the ground, is that communities need to remain vigilant with the latest fire updates from Vic Emergency, and respond accordingly.

During community briefings to hundreds of evacuees from throughout rural communities across the Alpine Shire and the Rural City of Wangaratta, CFA agency commander Peter Creak said some fires burning across the North East are likley to get larger over coming weeks.

He said cooler conditions and some rainfall at the start of the week is expected to giveway to hotter temperatures with an increased level of fire danger later this week.

Outside the Wangaratta Police Station yesterday during a short visit to be prised of the current situation, the Victorian Premier praised the efforts of all those involved in an unprecedented fire emergency that has seem him enact – for the first time ever – a state of disaster across six local government areas, including Wangaratta and Alpine Shire.

Mr Andrews said the response for all concerned – agencies, emergency services, evacuees and the wider community – had been remarkable, but noted this was just the start of the fire season and there may be prolonged hardship to come.

Trevor Logan, incident controller at the Wangaratta Incident Control Centre, said the fire five kilometres east of Whitfield in the Black Range had been contained within earth containment lines over the weekend and that as of late yesterday afternoon it was considered to be under control.

“The fire that we have been particularly concerned about today has been the Buffalo River fire,” he told the Wangaratta Chronicle around 5pm yesterday.

He said erratic winds had fanned the blaze since the morning and it was moving around 3km and hour towards Carboor.

Mr Logan said strike teams, each comprising four tankers, were based at the Carboor Fire Station and at Whorouly South and were putting out any spot fires.

“We’ve had fires spotting up to 10kms from the fire front,” Mr Logan said.

“We’ve been doing alot of work around the easements of the large electricity lines to form a fire break.

“The fire has come out of a pine plantation and into bushland and we’re hoping to pull it up when it gets out into the grassland.

“Crews will work into the night and be refreshed if needed.”

Throughout the weekend Vic Emergency issued evacuation notices, emergency warnings and watch and act notifications affecting many communities throughout the Alpine and King valleys and neighbouring localities.

It saw thousands of people relocate out of areas and they may be unable to return for days.

Mr Logan said it was critical that people continue to monitor the Vic Emergency website (see page 2) for the latest fire updates.

The message was re-iterated to hundreds of evacuees at emergency relief centres at the Wangaratta Performing Arts and Convention Centre and Wangaratta Showgrounds.

Rural City of Wangaratta cheif executive officer Brendan McGrath said the centres would stay open for as long as needed.

Those visiting the relief centres are registering for the Red Cross and also with the Department of Human Services, which was providing financial assistance which could be used for accommodation and food.

The Australian Army is also assisting a the centre, and has buses on standy to ferry people to Latchford Barracks near Wodonga, where they can also be accommodated.

Health authorities and government agencies addressing yesterday’s meetings urged people to avoid unecessary exposure and physical exercise while the current smoke haze enveloping Wangaratta and district persisted.

And that could be for sometime, depending on wind changes.

Victoria Police said they had additional resoruces in fire impacted areas to help monitor homes and businesses, noting there had been no reports of looting.

Police said traffic management remained in place for people’s safety.

Ben Thomas, who is managing the relief centre, said council had had many offers of donations and assistance, including accommodation, from people wishing to help.

Council has a registry desk in the WPAC and people can also go to the Rural city of Wangaratta’s website to register and access relief and assistance information.

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