24/09/2020

Victoria’s disaster watchdog has already begun an inquiry into the state’s current bushfire crisis as a national royal commission is considered by the Prime Minister.

“We may well be having to call the ADF more regularly, if this is the new normal, these sorts of significant fire events every few years.”
Victorians are still being told to leave their homes in some communities as firefighters battle 20 blazes across the state.
However, emergency services are taking advantage of a “very valuable window” of calmer winds and high humidity to strengthen containment lines in the state’s alpine region.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp on Sunday said the forecast for this week was fairly benign and fire services were currently concerned about the Abbeyard fire.
That emergency warning has been fairly constant over the last couple of days, he said.
The emergency warning is strongly suggesting people have that opportunity to leave and they should head to Porepunkah.
Even though there are fairly benign weather conditions today, this is another reminder that we have a fairly active fire out there and people need to stay across conditions in their local areas,” he said.
The news of easier conditions comes as veteran firefighter Bill Slade, 60, from Wonthaggi was indentified as the man killed by a falling tree fighting the fire front in Omeo on Saturday, bringing Victoria’s bushfire toll to four.
The bulk of the state’s firefighting efforts will now turn to reinforcing containment lines and burning areas of bush that haven’t yet been touched by nearby fires, but could catch alight at any moment.
By removing unburnt fuel in milder weather conditions, firefighters can reduce the risk of fire flaring up in those areas, Emergency Management Victoria’s state control centre spokesman Luke Hegarty said.
On Sunday night, spotters will take to the sky in a bid to scan the perimeter of the fires. They will measure how much land has been burnt in Victoria and assess the damage to homes and properties.
Despite the state government expecting a “very significant additional spend” for bushfire recovery, Mr Andrews is committed to posting a budget surplus in May this year.
“The reason you run a surplus is so that if events like this come along, or there are other changes you can’t really control, you need to have a buffer,” he said.
As part of the bushfire recovery effort in Victoria, case support workers will be made available to fire-affected residents in Victoria’s north east in a new $14 million program.
The Victorian Bushfires Case Support Program’s coordinators will link residents with mental health support and financial counselling, while also assisting with filling out paperwork, handling financial claims and granting relief funds.
The new program was announced by Mr Andrews and Bushfire Recovery Victoria Chair Ken Lay on Sunday.
The thousands of holidaymakers who were caught in the East Gippsland fires and nearby businesses stranded without the tourist trade will also be able to use case workers if needed, as well as those driven
Mr Lay said this would assist communities to “recover and rebuild” once the bushfires are over, with people already accessing the case management service.
“People who are out of their homes – people who have lost everything – I don’t want them having to retell their story 30 times, I don’t want them to have to wade through almost seemingly endless paperwork,” Mr Andrews said.
Services will be delivered by Windermere and Gippsland Lakes Community Health in Gippsland, Gateway Health in Northern Victoria, councils and co-health in other parts of the state.
Temperatures in East Gippsland will climb into the low 30s by Wednesday. The Bureau of Meteorology is also predicting a chance of lightning, storms and heavy rainfall from Wednesday until the weekend.
“While it is getting warmer, the winds are light and humidity is increasing, hence why were getting storms. Those conditions generally suppress fire danger,” senior forecaster Richard Russell said.
“Over East Gippsland and the state’s north east, theres a risk of some thunderstorms from Wednesday right through to Saturday. They won’t be dry thunderstorms, there will be some rain.
“There is a risk of flash flooding. The biggest concern is if there’s heavy rainfall on land thats burnt and near trees that have been destroyed, there’s nothing to hold it, and on steep slopes you can have land slips.”
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at a.mcmillan@theage.com.au