Homes Feared Lost in Large Bushfire in Victoria’s West

About 1000 firefighters have been battling the blaze including those operating water bombing aircraft.
Homes Feared Lost in Large Bushfire in Victoria’s West
A Christmas decoration seen amid smoke from a bushfire at West Wallsend in Newcastle, Australia, on Dec. 14, 2023. (Roni Bintang/Getty Images)

Homes have been reported lost as reinforcements start arriving to bolster firefighters battling a large bushfire in western Victoria.

Thousands of residents from more than 30 communities near Ballarat have been told to “leave now,” with emergency warnings and a watch-and-act alert issued.

About 1000 firefighters have been battling the blaze including those operating water bombing aircraft.

Firefighters hoped conditions would abate overnight but they did not, with the blaze moving northeasterly towards Avoca on Friday morning, Feb. 23.

The fire had burned through more than 11,000 hectares and spotfires from embers were starting ahead of its main front, a State Control Centre spokeswoman said.

More than 25,000 homes were sent emergency alerts through voice or text messages on Feb. 22, and around 5500 more went out on Friday morning, Feb. 23.

Advice messages for Avoca, Glenbrae and surrounds were in place on Feb. 23 but the spokeswoman said leaving immediately was the safest option for locals.

“If people are located within these (warning) areas we’re asking them to leave now to protect their life,” she said.

“We are hearing of property losses but we'll know more later in the day.”

Livestock were also expected to be lost in the blaze.

Victorian Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan said he expected conditions to remain volatile on Friday.

“We are throwing everything we can at it to try and contain the fire in the lead-up to next Wednesday’s (Feb. 21) predicted high fire weather day,” he told ABC TV early on Feb. 23.

The very large bushfire forced the closure of the Great Western Highway between the major towns of Ballarat and Ararat, in addition to a train line and bus routes in the area.

The aim on Feb. 23 was to get the Great Western Highway opened but the Pyrenees highway was set to be closed due to the fire, Mr. Heffernan said.

Skipton Road between Skipton and Beaufort was also closed as of Friday morning, as was Beaufort-Lexton Road.

Relief centres were set up at Ararat, Maryborough and Wendouree.

Prisoners with health conditions that make them vulnerable to smoke have been taken away from Langi Kal Kal Prison, which is near the fire.

Firefighters have also been battling bushfires in parts of Tasmania, with a watch and act warning issued for the Dee community and surrounds over a fire in the remote central highlands, with residents told to prepare to leave.

A high fire danger alert has been issued for parts of central and south western NSW, in addition to the Greater Hunter region.

Hot conditions on Feb. 23 are likely to be focused on Northern and Eastern NSW, according to Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Dean Narramore.

He said the mercury was set to reach mid to high 30s in Sydney before widespread thunderstorm activity and a cool change in the evening.

A heatwave warning is current for Western Australia’s Pilbara, North Interior and South Interior Districts and Gascoyne regions.

In WA a bushfire watch and act alert is in place for people travelling along the Eyre Highway near the Balladonia Roadhouse in parts of Balladonia and the Fraser Range in the Shire of Dundas.