Bushfires in Victoria kill 14 more deaths feared
February 07, 2009 10:05pm
BREAKING NEWS BUSHFIRES have killed at least 14 and many more are feared dead as Victoria reels from the worst fires since Ash Wednesday.
A few moments ago, deputy piolice commissioner Kieran Walsh told a press conference up to 40 could have perished.
The toll includes six dead at Kinglake, four dead at Wandong and three dead at Strathewen and one dead at Clonbinane.
There are unconfirmed reports that the six victims at Kinglake were all in one vehicle.
Anyone concerned about family or friends in affected areas should call the CFA on 1800 240 667.
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The toll may rival the 47 killed on Ash Wednesday in 1983.
Premier John Brumby said: ``This is a deeply sad and shocking tragedy.
``This is an incredible and terrible loss. My heart and I’m sure the hearts of all Victorians goes out to the families and to the firefighters and volunteers who continue to battle the fires.’’
Firefights say dozens of homes have been destroyed by bushfires as the state is under siege from nine major blazes.
In Bendigo, there are unconfirmed reports that fires have destroyed 50 houses and a sports stadium.
Among infrastructure decimated, a golf club is gone and a fire truck has been destroyed.
One man is in critical condition after suffering burns to 50 per cent of his body when he tried to move stock in the Coleraine area in the state's west and will soon be flown to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne.
Thousands of firefighters and residents battle major fronts at Horsham, Coleraine, Weerite, Kilmore East, Bunyip, Churchill, Dargo, Murrindindi and Redesdale in all corners of the scorched state.
The 2500 ha fire at Horsham is the largest in the state while another at the Bunyip State Park has reached 2400 ha and one at Kilmore has burned 2000 hectares.
The Churchill fire in Gippsland is bearing down on coastal towns including Yarram, Langsbrough and Manns Beach.
Residents are on high alert near the Bunyip State Park, Yarra Glen, Churchill, Kilmore, Horsham, Weerite, Redesdale, Maiden Gully and Ferntree Gully and Coleraine.
See the map of where fires are burning in Victoria
As the cool change fans fires in new directions across the state, a man is his 40s is in a serious condition after 50 per cent of his body was burned while helping a neighbour fight a fire near Coleraine.
A Hamilton Base Hospital spokesman said it was expected the man would be airlifted to a Melbourne hospital tonight.
The Coleraine blaze is one of nine major bushfires burning across Victoria, fuelled by a 45-plus degree heatwave throughout the day and strong winds.
Three houses have been destroyed by a fire near Wandong, in the Kilmore district. The fire has burned 1400 ha and is heading south towards the community of Hidden Valley.
Three houses have been burned at Horsham in Victoria's west, along with the city's golf club. A firetruck was also destroyed, but the firefighters escaped uninjured.
At least one home was believed to have been lost on the Longwarry Rd, near Longwarry, after the Bunyip State Forest blaze jumped the Princes Highway and rail line, two of the main transport links into Gippsland.
The wind change is threatening to turn a narrow bushfire head into a devastating fire front 20km wide Bunyip Ridge.
The fire jumped control lines overnight, and around lunchtime the fire on the hill near the Tonimbuk township literally exploded to more than 10 times its earlier size.
Such was the concern after it broke control lines that ground attack firefighters were forced back, ordered to retreat by incident commanders because of the extreme danger, before the blaze incinerated everything in its path.
Police, fire and VicRoads officials also set up several roadblocks - including on the Princes Highway near Pakenham - and stopping all non-essential traffic and residents from going anywhere near the ever-expanding fireground.
Julie Venrooy said she had been forced to stay on the Princes Highway south of Tonimbuk by police, unable to return to her home at Shady Creek on the other side of the fire front.
"I've been able to contact my husband once," she said.
"He's had ember attack, that was about an hour ago but I don't know what's happened since."
Farmer Graham Kinross, whose home and farm buildings were just a few hundred metres from the nearest flames, said the choice to stay and defend his property was easy, adding the wind direction had helped.
"It's blowing past here and if the wind keeps going that way, I should be right, but I don't know about my neighbour,'' he said, pointing to a farm less than 1km along an adjoining dirt track.
Two hours later, Mr Kinross said he felt his property had escaped the worst, but the news was not so good for his neighbour.
"He lost all his silage, I think they saved his hay, and they saved his sheds and the house, but everything else is pretty well burnt out,'' Mr Kinross added.
One of two high voltage power transmission lines supplying Melbourne was knocked out at 4.30pm by smoke and ash from a fire at the Bunyip State Forest.
"We have no immediate issues, but if the second line goes down it could affect some customers,'' said Paul Bird, a spokesman for the power wholesaler, National Electricity Market Management Company.
A fire at Churchill, south of Morwell, was "making a run" south-east with fears it would cross the Princes Highway.
Emergency centres have been set up at Warrigul Leisure Centre and Cardinia Cultural centre for people fleeing the Bunyip fires.
Labertouche and Labertouche North near the Bunyip State Park, along with towns near Horsham and Coleraine are on high alert with residents urged to leave their homes or prepare to stay and fight the fires.
"They are going to be experiencing ember attacks and smoke imminently if not already,'' a CFA spokesman said.
The Hume Highway has been closed between Wallan and Broadford due to fears fires in the Kilmore area could jump the fire and spread.
The CFA has also warned residents of Pomborneit North, Scollers Road, Caters Roads Settlement and Swan Marsh.
This fire has crossed the Princes Highway heading east towards Pomborneit North.
Another fire west of Coleraine has jumped the Glenelg Highway and is burning in a easterly direction, posing a threat to the towns of Muntham, Coleraine and Hilgay.
And a third fire is burning west of Horsham along Remlaw Road, heading south.
The communities of Haven, McKenzie Creek and Wonwondah may be directly impacted upon by this fire.
Towns near the Bunyip State Forest fire have been warned they are likely to lose power this afternoon.
Power lines that connect Melbourne and other parts of Victoria are also under threat as the blaze in the Bunyip State Park gathers momentum.
Bunyip State Park has been closed to all vehicles except emergency services as more than 100 firefighters battle the blaze.
Today's horror fire weather has the potential to kill and Victorians should be on alert for arsonists, Premier John Brumby has warned.
Searing temperatures and strong winds are expected to present some of the worst bushfire conditions in state history, like those seen in 1983 when 75 people died in the Ash Wednesday fires.
"It's the sort of day when a fire that gets away won't just damage property, it may well cost lives, as Black Friday and Ash Wednesday have done before," Mr Brumby said.
"So I don't exaggerate when I say we need to be on alert."
The warning comes as it has been revealed the state is struggling to cope with the deaths linked to last week's heatwave.
Funerals and coronial investigations have been thrown into turmoil because forensic investigators cannot keep up with the number of bodies sent to the state's mortuary.
Sources within Victoria's Coronial Services Centre have told the Herald Sun families face waits of more than 10 days for bodies to be returned after autopsies, delaying funerals and adding to their grief.
They said the state's mortuary could cope with about 100 bodies, but there are closer to 130 waiting for autopsies by just 10 pathologists.
State Coroner judge Jennifer Coate yesterday refused to disclose the extent of the backlog, or the number of deaths. But she admitted the service was forced to send bodies to funeral parlours and hospitals for storage.
"We have had an unprecedented demand on our services, all of our facilities, including the mortuary, in the wake of the extreme heat," Judge Coate said.
After deliberately lit bushfires destroyed 30 homes last week, authorities have urged all Victorians to be on alert.
Emergency services urged people to avoid travelling to fire-prone areas.
These include coastal strips such as the Mornington Peninsula, Great Ocean Rd and the Otways; mountain areas such as the High Country, Dandenongs and Yarra Ranges; and forested areas such as Macedon Ranges.
In Melbourne, a grassfire has forced the closure of East Link between the Dandenong bypass and Cheltenham Road.
V/Line was forced to shut down three of its five lines - Gippsland, Seymour and Warrnambool -because of fires at 1.30pm.
The worst affected train line was Gippsland where one train was stopped at Pakenham and another at Warragul.
V/Line spokesman Daniel Maloney said a few hundred travellers were stranded because police road blocks on the Princes Hwy meant buses could not be sent.
He said V/Line feared there would be infrastructure damage on the Gippsland line which could knock out services for days.
A large fire between Wandong and Kilmore had closed the Seymour line and a grassfire at Colac had closed the Warrnambool line, but buses were being sent to move passengers, he said.
He said sleepers had been burnt between Colac and Camperdown which would affect the Warrnambool line until at least tomorrow (Sunday).
The Ballarat and Bendigo lines were not affected.