Late spring rains have helped to soften the start of the summer fire season despite the region’s first major blaze taking hold in the first week of summer.
Thursday’s Buninyong/Scotsburn bushfire was an ominous start to the fire season but when it burned out of bushland in to grassland its spread was halted because grass in the area is not fully “cured” or dry.
“It’s reflective of what our environment offers up now. We have had one of the driest winters on record and a dry spring follow by late spring rain which has slowed the progression of the fire season down,” said CFA incident controller Brett Boatman.
“But the underlying dryness in the environment is still there .. and we are saying very loudly and clearly to the community that we are in fire season, summer is here and people need to be aware of conditions.”
About 150 residents of Buninyong and Scotsburn packed in to the Buninyong Town Hall for a bushfire information session on Friday while 80 to 100 firefighters from the CFA and Forest Fire Management Victoria kept working to extinguish hotspots.
The fire emergency began at 2.35pm on Thursday when the first reports of smoke were called in south of Devonshire Road, and by 3.10pm the first emergency warning had been issued for local residents.
Evacuations were ordered for residents in the fire's path with 33 people registering at the relief centre at Buninyong Football Netball Club.
While the fire was bought under control about 11pm, fresh crews were called in from Grenville at midnight and early Friday a helicopter flew over the fire looking for hotspots that could have reignited the fire in the day’s predicted strong wind and heat.
“Our appeal to the public is don't do anything that could cause the next fire we have to go and resource and cause impact on the community," Mr Boatman told those who attended the town hall meeting.
The cause of the fire is unknown. “We had two different fire investigators and police look at it and there’s not enough evidence to put together a cause,” he said.
The fire is one of the first outings for Forest Fire Management Victoria’s new Unimog firefighting vehicles in the Ballarat region.
The heavy tanker firefighting trucks are fitted-out with equipment specifically designed for planned burn and firefighting needs, carrying 4000 litres of water and four firefighters – double the capacity of existing heavy tankers. The Unimog was used in the initial firefight, and in Friday’s blacking out and control work.
Mr Boatman said work would continue on the blaze overnight Friday and Saturday with hopes of returning it to “local patrol” status late Saturday.
At the town hall meeting, resident Peter Curran expressed frustration at the inconsistency of road closures around the blaze.
Mr Curran lives about 350m from where the fire began and although the flames were moving away from his property, he wanted to move several pregnant horses.
When his adult daughters arrived at the corner of the Midland Highway and Finns Rd with horse floats attached to their vehicles, police refused to allow them to drive down Finns Rd but did allow them to walk down.
"It's crazy that they weren't allowed to drive but they were allowed to walk to the property," he said. "I can understand not letting anyone go down at all, but to allow people to walk is a bit irresponsible."
All day Friday a steady stream of water tankers filled up in Buninyong to ferry water out to crews continuing to mop up the blaze.
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