THE state’s tinderbox dry vegetation, Sunday’s volatile wind changes and extreme heat overnight have all combined to create the worst fire conditions for five years, authorities have warned.
Four blazes have encircled two small communities in East Gippsland, with the CFA issuing an emergency warning for residents near Goongerah and Buchan.
An out-of-control bushfire is travelling in a south-easterly direction towards Goongerah, where about ten homeowners – out of about 30 properties in the town – have elected to stay and fight.
CFA spokesman Gerard Scholten said police had warned everyone to leave on Saturday, because fire crews would not be able to slow the fire’s progress towards their homes overnight.
Emergency warnings have also been issued for Buchan, as well as Buchan South and Sunny Point, and Mr Scholten said the CFA was most worried about that fire.
He said spotfires and ember attacks would begin in the towns around dawn on Sunday and that people needed to leave before then.
The fire conditions were so erratic that crews struggled to directly fight the blaze on Saturday.
Mr Scholten said conditions would be so extreme on Sunday that it might not even be possible to provide air support to fire crews in Gippsland.
Blazes had been burning in nearby national forests for about 10 days but the fire’s intensity has grown with the heat and Sunday’s predicted strong winds may push the fires towards homes.
Watch and act messages are also in place for other towns in the state’s east, including Hernes Oak, Moe South and Coalville, where emergency services were doorknocking homes ahead of predicted storm activity that could exacerbate an out-of-control blaze.
Temperatures nudged 40C in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon and went towards 43C in parts of the Mallee.
They were expected to stay in the high 20s throughout Victoria overnight meaning the blazes will keep their intensity.
There is a total fire ban issued throughout Victoria on Sunday.
All districts in the central and eastern parts of the state have a fire danger rating of extreme, while the western districts will either be severe or very high.
Temperatures will drop into the 20s for most of the state on Monday but will once again get beyond 30C later in the week.
Melbourne and those in the Western districts and Southwest coastal areas will be greeted to a welcome cool change by midday on Sunday with temperatures expected to plummet more than 10C in some parts.
But the cool change will not reach fire-ravaged East Gippsland until 5pm and the strong southwest winds it brings may present more problems for firefighters.
Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said all Victorians needed to brace themselves for the extreme conditions.
“Sunday will be the worst fire conditions that Victoria has experience since 2009,” Mr Lapsley said.
“Anywhere in Victoria fires will run and run hard. Fire intensity will be furious, they will be fast and out-of-control.”
Mr Lapsley said crews were unable to waterbomb fires overnight and residents needed to be conscious that they could move very quickly while dark.
He said firefighters faced a difficult challenge in Goongerah where four blazes had burnt through a combined 2695 hectares.
All roads into those communities were closed for anyone but firefighting vehicles and residents leaving the area.
Authorities also warned there were reports of spot fires and ember attacks in front of the main blazes.
Goongerah resident and CFA member Andy Bennett said most people had left when the first warnings were issued about 10 days ago.
He said local crews had told residents not to expect a fire truck if their homes were under attack.
“I’m well-prepared and I do feel my home is defendable so I will be sticking around.”
Police are also investigating a suspicious fire in the La Trobe Valley on Friday night.
On Saturday, paramedics also responded to eight cases of children being left in cars – including a four-month-old who was accidentally trapped for 20 minutes.
Ambulance Victoria operations manager Paul Holman said locking children in cars was the most “dangerous thing you could do.”
Today 37C with cool change developing