Dry lightning sparks 256 fires in Victoria Australia amid heatwave

Angus Thompson, James Dowling, Michelle Ainsworth
Herald Sun
Wed, 15 Jan 2014 16:52 CST
fire ban sign

Crews have worked throughout the night extinguishing hundreds of fires in the driest parts of Victoria sparked by dry lightning from electrical storms.

CFA state duty officer Scott Purdy told 3AW radio crews responded to 256 fires between 5pm and 12am.

The Mallee and Wimmera received the most strikes as electrical storms hit the region and continued to other parts of the state including the central Victorian towns of Castlemaine, Daylesford, Woodend, Macedon, and metropolitan Melbourne.

There are still 22 fires burning in the Mallee. Waterbombing helicopters are monitoring the region and central Victoria to identify strikes before conditions worsen later in the week.

The CFA fears more dry lightning, which means lightning with not enough rain to combat its effect, will hit the state today.

The CFA battled several grass fires yesterday, with the most serious at Kangaroo Ground which is now under control.

There is a total fire ban across the state.

lightning

© Supplied
Electrical storm in Craigieburn last night.

Hot night

Victorians endured a hot night and are facing another scorcher today.

The temperature stayed in the 30s for most of the night, dipping to 29.3C just after 5am – close to the January record of 30.6C in 2010.

The Bureau of Meteorology revised today’s forecast for Melbourne from 39C to 41C after the mercury came close to 43C yesterday.

The bureau said the heat would increase quickly this morning, and Melbourne should be close to 40C soon after midday.

Temperatures will continue to peak above 40C tomorrow and Friday, with wind gusts of up to 100km/h expected to create dangerous fire conditions on Friday.

The heat was expected to reach 45C in parts of the state yesterday, but Mr Russell said Avalon, southwest of Melbourne, was among locations sweltering in temperatures exceeding 46C.

Waterbombing

© Jay Town / News Limited
Left: Waterbombing was used to combat the fire at Kangaroo Ground. Right: Beaufort firefighter Robin Hill cools off.

Police probe arson as houses saved

Waterbombing helicopters and dozens of fire trucks contained the blaze at Kangaroo Ground, north of Melbourne, that was believed to have been started by a bonfire.

Police are also investigating whether a fire bug was responsible for another fire at Little River.

Residents whose homes came within metres of the raging Little River grassfire said fire bugs had been a constant concern in the area.

A cluster of households in Little River, 51km southwest of Melbourne, were told to evacuate as several fire crews aided by waterbombing aircraft battled to control the fast-moving inferno.

At Kangaroo Ground an army of 31 fire trucks and three waterbombing aircraft battled to control a bushfire on difficult terrain as the inferno spread in several directions.

At Little River Stephen Baines said he returned home from work to find fire trucks screaming down the road and his neighbours being evacuated as firefighters tried to halt the flames at Bulban Rd.

“It was bloody scary,” Mr Baines said.

He said the community suspected arson with the fire occurring exactly a year after grass fires in the same area which police believe were sparked by fire bugs.

“Mate this one was deliberately lit, just like the last one.

“We’re all keeping an eye out,” he said.

Victoria Police arson chemists have been at the scene trying to determine whether or not the blaze was suspicious.

Heronswood

© News Limited
The remains of the cafe at Heronswood.

Historic home damaged by fire

Heronswood historic homestead was engulfed by flames yesterday afternoon after a grassfire spread through the Mornington Peninsula suburb of Dromana.

The CFA said the home’s freestanding cafe had been destroyed in the blaze, but the main house which dates back to 1864, suffered only minor damage.

CFA incident controller David Gibbs said the property’s heritage farm and gardens were unlikely to have been damaged by fire.

Flames first reached the property and popular tourist attraction at around 5.45pm, but a water bomber soon put out the blaze.

Visitors to the house who were on site at the time were not injured by the fire, but the nearby freeway was closed.

Little River fire

© News Limited
Smoke billows from the Little River fire.

Power cut ‘for planned maintenance’

Meanwhile, a power company cut off thousands of sweltering customers.

SP AusNet pressed ahead with planned blackouts to ­almost 1000 properties in 14 towns to carry out “essential bushfire mitigation” maintenance, robbing householders of aircon, fans and running water for up to six hours.

Upwey, Cockatoo, Glenrowan West and Thoona were hardest hit by the power pole replacements along with other upgrades.

“We couldn’t do the work any earlier because we were doing other critical maintenance. We don’t take the ­decision lightly and we do apologise,” said spokesman Jonathon Geddes.

AEMO says there is enough reserve supply for today’s heat, barring an “extreme” event.

SP AusNet expected more “planned outages” to affect about 190 customers in towns including Wangaratta and Narre Warren East today.

Beryl Wooller from Thoona in the state’s northeast, said: discovered the power was out when she got up to water the garden at 7am yesterday. “Surely it was not that desperate? The power poles were not going to fall down”.

“I have a freezer and fridge stacked full of food. If we had known we would have planned to get out for the day and put off the weekly shop,” Mrs Wooller said.

Despite SP AusNet saying residents were sent letters two weeks ago, some claimed they were not notified. Others said they did not receive an SMS advising works were being brought forward several hours to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Acting Premier Peter Ryan said the company had advised the work was urgent.

“If they put the work off and it is of an urgent nature and then some disaster occurs then of course there is the obvious commentary to be made,” Mr Ryan said.

Thousand of customers in Bayswater were affected by a heat-related network fault for less than an hour from 2pm yesterday.

More than 1000 customers in Powercor and Jemena areas including Port Fairy, Point Cook, Stawell, Coburg and Somerton also suffered outages in stifling conditions.

The Australian Energy Market Operator expects Victoria’s daily electricity consumption to exceed 10,000 megawatts from today until Friday – 50 per cent more than a typical January weekday – as millions crank up the air conditioning.

Penny's pine factory fire

© News Limited
Firefighters battles a blaze at Penny’s pine factory.
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