LOCAL emergency services are bracing themselves for a possible ‘spike’ in weather conditions today that could adversely impact bushfires in the North East.
Speaking at a media update at Wangaratta police station on Monday, Victorian Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said the combination of forecast northerly winds followed by a southerly change had the potential to dramatically worsen fire conditions.
Ms Neville said she was in the region to speak with emergency services on what has happened, what were the issues and what might happen.
So far the bushfires in North East Victoria had claimed 70 homes with 200 damaged while across the east of the state 400 had been destroyed and another 640 damaged, and that did not include stock and grassland losses.
Ms Neville said while the recent rain had allowed a much needed rest for firefighters it was unlikely to make a significant dent in the fires themselves and had the potential to create further dangers including falling trees and landslips.
“Again, my message is, keep an eye on the weather, it develops very quickly and take advice from the emergency service workers,” she said.
Ms Neville said she understood local businesses were doing it tough with the dramatic loss of tourists after the series of evacuation warnings but said there could be more evacuation warnings as early as tomorrow depending on the severity of the conditions.
“It (evacuation warnings) was one of those decisions that was critical to save lives and we could have been in a very different position now if we hadn’t encouraged people to leave,” she said.
Ms Neville would not be drawn on when an announcement would be made by the State Government giving tourists the all clear to return to the North East region, that would be up to the Incident Control Centre, however, she did encourage people from the metropolitan region to check individual destinations in the North East that were not directly impacted by fire as a place to visit on the Australia Day weekend or to book for their Easter holidays now to at least give tourism operators hope for the future.
She also reminded the community that it was still only January and, traditionally, the worst months for bushfires were still ahead of us.