A busload of weary CFA volunteers returned from fire-ravaged East Gippsland on New Year's Day.
There were 20 volunteers, as well as five staff from the District 15 office, who departed last Saturday to battle the blazes that have engulfed large parts of the eastern part of Victoria.
CFA rostered duty officer Steve Poulter, who is the commander at Lucas Fire Station, said the volunteers were on the front line on Monday as the fire danger hit its most extreme levels of the season.
"They were there when the fire ripped through on December 30," Commander Poulter said.
Those crews were involved in protecting the towns. They saved some houses but unfortunately they couldn't save othersCommander Steve Poulter
The volunteers from Lucas, Ballan, Bacchus Marsh, Trentham, Sebastopol and Wendouree brigades were involved in protecting Nowa Nowa and Wairewa, around 20km north-east of Bairnsdale. The commander and admin staff worked out of nearby Johnsonville.
Footage from Nowa Nowa shows a "wall" of fire closing in on the small country town.
Commander Poulter said: "They're obviously pretty tired. They've done a lot of hard work."
All the volunteers were described as unharmed but physically exhausted.
"They've been working the big hours," Commander Poulter said. "They're all at home now, having a rest."
They went out with fire trucks from Bacchus Marsh, Sebastopol, Trentham, Ballan and Wendouree to help in the fight against the fires, which have destroyed an estimated half a million hectares so far.
They have also destroyed more than 50 building. One man was reported dead in Buchan, with three people still unaccounted for.
The District 15 vehicles will remain out in the area for a new delegation of volunteers from the same area now in East Gippsland to reinforce fire-fighting efforts.
In the meantime, some local brigades are canvassing members to be on stand-by and for availability should the fire conditions deteriorate further.
If required they would travel down to the area on Friday (January 3). "It just depends on how things are going," Commander Poulter said. He told The Courier the incident control centre in the area would send a request through if they wanted a crew changed over.
While warnings in the East Gippsland area were mostly downgraded on New Year's Day to watch and act, conditions are expected to worsen towards the weekend.
There were still 45 fires burning throughout the state on Wednesday afternoon.
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