Still long fight to go

Fires at Mt Buffalo, Buckland and Abbeyard still not under control
Ashleigh Piles
WEB FIRE premier visit 5 pe c6 20200105
OFFERING SUPPORT: Wangaratta-based federal MP Helen Haines (MHR, Indi) met up with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Victoria Police superintendent Kerin Moloney and chief commissioner Graham Ashton, together with Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes (MLC, Northern Victoria) in Wangaratta yesterday. They were all briefed on the current fire situation and that of the communities across the North East. PHOTO: Leah Anderson-Byrne

LOCAL firefighters will spend coming days constructing control lines around Buckland as they prepare to battle “a very, very long fire fight”.

Over 200 personnel, including two task forces from Forest Fire Management Victoria, six CFA strike teams and six appliances from HVP, remain on the fire front as fires at Mount Buffalo, Buckland and Abbeyard remain not yet under control.

The Abbeyard Yarrarabula fire, which started eight kilometres east of Abbeyard, has so far burnt 66,000 hectares with a number of small fires joining on Saturday and rapidly pushing 20 kilometres north towards Buffalo River.

One property in Buffalo River was destroyed in the blaze. There have been no reports of injury.

On Sunday evening, a fire burning on top of Mount Buffalo remained a concern for authorities as it continues to create an inaccessible environment for aircrafts.

The blaze has torn through 700 hectares and Ovens deputy incident controller Jarrod Hayse said “it is likely to burn until we receive rainfall.”

“Fighting this fire is not going to be a quick fix and is likely to impact for weeks,” he said.

DELWP has since relocated five aircrafts to Shepparton from the Ovens helibase as thick smoke continues to challenge the fire attack.

Firefighters responded to 14 fires across Abbeyard, Buffalo Valley and around the Buckland area on December 31 with five of them successfully contained before Saturday’s severe weather conditions.

Mr Hayse said the extraordinary efforts of firefighters over the past week ultimately saved the towns of Harrietville, Porepunkah, Wandiligong and Smoko.

“These fires are quite dangerous as in their ability to grow quite rapidly and impact on communities,” Mr Hayse said.

“Our efforts in the first few days of the bushfires starting have resulted in them not spreading to the communities that we thought they would.

“That has been a very fortunate outcome.”

With resources spread between Dinner Plain, Mount Hotham, Harrietville and Mount Buffalo, Mr Hayse said the focus now is on closer communities.

“We still have a strong threat to the Harrietville, Smoko, Bright, Wandiligong and Porepunkah areas,” he said.

“We are busy constructing control lines into the Buckland and preparing for back burning in the Buckland to try and control that burn line.

“It is vital that we undertake these works and get these control lines constructed and get those back burns in so we can reduce the risk of this bushfire impacting communities in Upper Ovens.

“These fires are all going to continue to burn, they are all uncontained bushfires, particularly on the Buffalo plateau which is very difficult terrain.”

A Watch & Act remains in place for Abbeyard, Barwidgee, Bright, Buckland, Buckland Junction, Dandongadale, Eurobin, Freeburgh, Harrietville, Havilah, Mount Buffalo, Myrtleford, Nug Nug, Ovens, Porepunkah, Rosewhite, Smoko and Wandiligong as strong smoke impact continues to cloud the district.

“It’s very uncomfortable conditions for communities at the moment, particularly for our firefighters, but we are expecting the poor air quality conditions to continue and these back burns are going to contribute to that,” Mr Hayse said.

People with heart or lung conditions are advised to consider leaving the area as air quality areas remain hazardous.

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