WHEN East Gippsland went up in flames yesterday, CFA volunteers from this area answered the call.
CFA District 9 headquarters at Warragul put together a local strike team shortly after the Wingan River fire was reported at 3.43pm on Monday, prompting the unprecedented decision to evacuate the entire region east of Bairnsdale, at the height of the tourist season.
“Early yesterday a strike team of five tankers and a lead vehicle headed out to support the effort in East Gippsland,” said CFA brigade support officer Jodi Butler.
“Initially we have sent tankers and crews from Fish Creek, Berrys Creek, Ruby, Yarragon and Westbury (near Moe), with a lead vehicle from Mirboo North.
“Typically, there would be four or five people in each truck and two in the lead vehicle. They were headed for the basecamp, which has been set up at Swan Reach, for deployment.
“We have other crews on standby too, but we’ve also got to be mindful that this area is drying out as well and we want to retain the capacity we need to respond here.
“We’ll probably leave those appliances up there for as long as necessary now and bus people up and down to replace those who have gone out there initially.
“This fire is going to burn for months and we don’t want to be exhausting our fire fighters.
“It’s going to be a long, long fire season I’m afraid,” Ms Butler said.
“We also have other people up there working at the incident control centre and performing other roles associated with the response effort as do other emergency service agencies; police, SES, local government, Parks and all the rest.
“There’s a tent city up there and they need a lot of support on the ground as well.”
Many locals holidaying in the coastal areas of East Gippsland, from Lake Entrance further east, were caught up in yesterday’s evacuation which was carried off incredibly well.
The main route out, the Princes Highway, although initially closed to traffic between Cann River and Genoa, carried an increasingly heavy amount of vehicles, especially cars towing caravans, camper trailers and boats, from mid-afternoon on Sunday, as the word got around about the rapid spread of the Wingan River fire, threatening the popular camping spots at Thurra and Mueller River.
Emergency Vic explained the reason for the evacuation call.
“There are three significant fires burning in the forest in East Gippsland near Bruthen, Buchan and Bonang. It is likely that these fires will impact communities tomorrow (Monday) when the weather is forecast to be very hot, dry and with strong gusty winds. Under these weather conditions the fires in East Gippsland will grow significantly in size and it is possible that they will burn from the forest towards the coast, potentially crossing the Princes Highway. If this happens the Princes Highway will be closed for some time. The day’s extreme fire and weather conditions also mean there is a risk of new fire starts as a result of dry lightning.”
In fact, 12 new fires were reported on Monday morning.
“If you’re planning on visiting East Gippsland this week, don’t do it. If you’re already visiting East Gippsland, you need to leave the area. It is not possible to provide support and aid to all the visitors currently in the East Gippsland region, and if the Princess Highway is impacted, you may not be able to leave for sometime. If you live in East Gippsland, you need to move to safer locations” said Andrew Crisp, the Emergency Management Commissioner.
“It is absolutely critical that you are connected to emergency information and warnings and listen to the advice of emergency services” said Mr Crisp.
Parks and forests were also closed in East Gippsland.
Locally, we have had our fair share of fires already this year, including structure fires at Poowong and Nyora in recent weeks, and when a fire alert went up at Newhaven yesterday morning, local brigades were understandably on edge, but fortunately it was a small fuse-box fire that proved to be no threat.
Our CFA crews answer the call from East Gippsand