MILKING herds have been lost in the Terang and Cobden areas, as fires continue to rage in southwest Victoria.
Scotts Creek dairy farmer Matt Grant says fellow farmers in the Cobden and Terang region have “lost their entire herds”.
He spent all night fighting fires and said conditions were “pretty hair-raising”.
“I haven’t seen the damage in the daylight, but there has been a lot lost,” he said.
“We got the call out at 9.30pm last night and I got home at 8am. Thankfully my farm is 10km from latest flare-up and we’re OK here.”
With electricity down across much of the Cobden and Terang area, many farmers are scrambling to find generators, or walking their cows to their neighbour’s farms so they can milk their cows.
“Our cows haven’t been milked for 24 hours. We’ve had to call in a few favours and got some generators so we can get going with milking,” Mr Grant said.
The Weekly Times understands several milking herds in the Terang area have been entirely or partially lost in the fires.
At other fires further north, Angus breeders, the Moyle family, Pathfinder at Gazette near Penshurst, has also been hit. One home was lost on the property.
Meanwhile, crews hold grave concerns that the two large out-of-control fires in southwest Victoria could merge to form a super blaze as conditions worsen.
Senior station officer Peter Lowe said strong winds shifted early this morning putting them on a collision course.
“Conditions are making the effort difficult where we now have to fight the fires on multiple fronts,” he said.
The towns of Camperdown, Cobden and Timboon remain under fire threat.
Winds are pushing the fires in a south-easterly direction, but a strong westerly wind change is expected to impact the blazes soon.
Already four properties have been lost from the fire which originated in Terang, but authorities fear there will be many more.
Deputy Premier James Merlino said it was the biggest fire event of the season.
“This has been a difficult weekend,” Mr Merlino said.
“The wind will remain all day and it is quite a big fire front.”
At this stage he said 10 to 12 homes had been impacted by the fire.
The fires are believed to have been caused by lightning strikes but the Victoria Police arson and explosives squad is investigating to rule out foul play.
Not all of the properties were occupied and there have been no deaths or serious injuries.
However, lots of beef and dairy cattle have been lost.
A total of 29 firefighting aircraft have been used to tackle the fires with 280 firefighters working on the ground to battle the blazes in the state’s west.
Around 800 people have reported to relief centres for information and assistance.
Craig Lapsley, Emergency Management Commissioner of Victoria, said seven “push messages” were sent out to phones and devices throughout the night. The messages reached 70,000 devices.
Mr Lapsley said: “We acknowledge it was very challenging to get information out in the early stages.”
As the fire was at night, and aircraft were not being used, it was difficult for emergency services to accurately tell the locations of the fires in the early stages.
Peter Otto, acting state manager of the Victorian Bureau of Meterology, said this afternoon that the fire warning remained for southwest and central parts of the state.
“We are still expecting some severe fire dangers through this afternoon, that will ease tonight,” Mr Otto said.
“We also have this potential for damaging wind gusts over the southern and eastern parts of the state.”
Paramedics assessed about 12 people at relief centres for minor injuries including cuts, abrasions, sprains and mild asthma.
None required transport to hospital.
A community meeting has been scheduled in Cobden for 5.30pm at Cobden Civic Hall on Victoria St.
Mr Lapsley said thousands of homes are without power in the southwest.
There are a number of emergency warnings still in place for towns including Cobden, Timboon, Simpson and Camperdown.
Residents in those communities have been told it is too late to leave.
The fires began last night and are causing significant challenges for fire crews.
“In western Victoria significant fires all started after dark and therefore has been a very difficult night for crews on the ground to endeavour to pull those fires up,” CFA deputy officer Gary Cook said.
“Those fire are still running, they are still running under significant wind.”
Mr Laspley warned the fire danger will continue throughout the day,” he said.
“We will see potentially more fire in the landscape today.
“The wind will be very strong all morning and reaching into the afternoon.
“Victorians need to be very careful this Sunday.”
A CFA spokesman said last night Hawkesdale is “extremely dry” and is being lashed with “extreme winds”.
“If you are located in Hawkesdale, it is strongly recommended that you evacuate now and seek shelter at The Arc Gymnasium Stadium located on the Caramut Road in Warrnambool,” read a CFA warning.
Authorities have grave fears multiple fires could come together, creating an enormous front about 45kms north east of Warrnambool.
Homes are under serious threat, with residents fleeing the quick-spreading fires affecting up to 20 towns.
John Hamilton filmed shocking video of the fires engulfing Camperdown and surrounds from a lookout at the town’s caravan park.
It showed massive burning lines of fire.
“It’s huge,” Mr Hamilton said. “It is pretty incredible stuff. It looks like the crater has come alive and that there are lines of volcanic lava.”
A spokesman for the Camperdown Golf Club said he had received reports that the club was “up in flames”.
“Nothing’s been confirmed but there’s reports from people staying at the caravan park that have been evacuated and some of them have seen the big fire and flames in the crater,” he said.
“Because the golf club is set in a crater, it would spread particularly quick.”
Relief centres were opened in Camperdown and Warrnambool last night.
Firefighters tirelessly worked through the night to fight the major fires, which broke out near each other.
There were concerns two spreading fires would join, creating a huge front.
“There are two fires that firefighters watching very closely to join together in Terang and Gnotuk,” the CFA said.
The substation in Terang was exploding with loud bangs as fire ripped tore through after lightening struck dry surrounding paddocks.
Paul Chapman, who lives on the northern edge of Terang, said the sky was “glowing”.
He shot shocking footage of the fire at the town’s substation, where hay bales were alight.
“The reason I realised there was a fire was because the power went out and I walked outside and could see the sky glowing,” Mr Chapman said. “There are fires popping up everywhere.”
Mr Chapman said he had spoken to a neighbour about where to leave their homes, with most concern about the Garvoc fire.
“The wind feels like it has dropped a bit — it was really feral there for a bit — and the temperature,” he said.
“Where I am, because of the wind, the smoke isn’t too bad.”
Brett Gasper said it was a frightening sight. “The red sky and smell of smoke is daunting. My 12-year-old son is anxious. He’s packed his bags,” he told the Sunday Herald Sun.
A woman was also trapped inside her caravan as an aluminium shed was ripped from the ground by wild winds.
A relief centre was on Saturday night established in Warrnambool for those who chose to leave their homes.
Mr Lapsley earlier warned residents not to become complacent.
“We will see potentially more fire in the landscape today,” he said.
“The communities that have had fires around them have had a very, very difficult night
He said the hottest temperatures would hit on Sunday.
“We think this is quite a significant event in the sense that the winds remain strong all night,” Mr Lapsley said.
“That is something we don’t always experience.
“We’re seeing dry weather, hot weather overnight and windy weather.
“We’ve got overnight temperatures staying up — in some parts the hottest part of the day will be at breakfast time (on Monday).”
HOME DESTROYED IN DANDENONGS
EARLIER on Saturday, a house was destroyed by fire in the Dandenongs, after a blaze took hold of the multistorey home located on Gembrook-Launching Place Road late this afternoon.
The charred remains of the Gembrook home have been left scattered across the ground.
It was one of more than 30 fires which ignited across Victoria, with firefighters fearing the blazes may intensify throughout the night.
Unusually windy and warm March weather had authorities bracing for the spread of bushfires already burning across the state.
It is suspected some of Saturday’s blazes may have been deliberately lit and authorities have urged the public to be on the lookout for arsonists or anyone ignoring the total fire ban.
The bushfire at Seaview, in the east of the state, has spread to 254 hectares but is not threatening communities.
An advice message remains in place for areas around Allambee, Seaview, and Yarragon.
A number of bushfires also broke out after the 3.30pm warnings were issued, including in Rosebud, Werribee, Pakenham and north of Murchison.
Another small fire was also burning at Rokewood.
Fire investigators are probing the Mill Park blaze as well as a fast-spreading grassfire which ignited at a golf course in Vermont South on Saturday afternoon.
Mr Lapsley said there was no lightning in that area at the time so it’s likely the fires were the result of “human hand”.
Additional fire crews were deployed to the fire on Saturday afternoon to tackle hot spots, and continued to work throughout the night when winds of up to 70kmh are predicted.
Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley has warned residents not to become complacent, with forecasters predicting that when the sun goes down the threat of fire could go up.
“Most people in Victoria would think about bushfires burning during the day,” Mr Lapsley said.
“We prompt people to think tonight, this afternoon … what if there was a fire in their district in the night hours what would they do and how would they react and behave?”
By 3pm, the SES has been called out 50 times for trees down and firefighters had brought 31 small blazes under control.
DAUGHTERS OF THE WEST BOOK GF BERTH
A large bushfire in the Cathedral Range was also brought under control, but communities in surrounding towns have been warned to remain vigilant.
“We’re seeing dry weather, hot weather overnight and windy weather,” Mr Lapsley said.
“If we do have fires running, and they run into the night that is quite challenging for communities — especially if the fire starts late in the day.”
— with RYAN TENNISON, ANEEKA SIMONIS, ANDREA HAMBLIN, DAVID HURLEY AND DAN FOGARTY, HERALD SUN
By: KATE DOWLER
Source: The Weekly Times, Herald Sun