Sunday, December 10, 2006
FIREFIGHTERS fear bushfires could sweep through towns in Victoria's highlands today as winds strengthen ahead of a cool change.
Bush brigades are working frantically to bolster containment lines around the state's worst fires before the blustery conditions strike.
Milder than expected conditions yesterday eased the threat in the state's northeast and Gippsland, where 24 fires were burning out of control last night.
Almost 4000 firefighters from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and New Zealand were tackling the blazes, backed by army personnel.
Fires so far have consumed almost 180,000ha of bush.
Victoria's Department of Environment says yesterday's reprieve would be short-lived.
"The whole system has slowed down over the past 24 hours, but we're expecting it to hit tomorrow and it will be severe," spokesman Stuart Ord said last night.
"The fire will move very quickly and the intensity will be very hot."
Burning embers, ash, twigs and branches were expected to carry the fire from the highlands south to the Gippsland plains, where drought-affected pasture could easily carry it down to the coast, Mr Ord said.
"There is no doubt the fire will hit settlements tomorrow, the question is which ones," he said.
Thick smoke cloaked eastern Victoria yesterday, prompting a rush of calls to the triple-0 emergency line.
It also grounded firefighting aircraft, preventing them from attacking the fires and helping to determine where they were moving.
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