“Actually in the Melbourne area at the moment, there’s quite a strong smell even in the office here,” Mr Efron said.
Smoke from the East Gippsland fires was being dragged down over Bass Strait before a south-easterly wind pulls the smoke back up into Melbourne, Mr Efron said.
“The wind regime we’re seeing, we’re seeing north-easterly winds along the NSW south coast that’s transporting smoke across Gippsland and out over Bass Strait and then the winds are turning to more of an east, south-easterly and bringing them back almost in a loop towards Melbourne.”
Air quality is also very poor in Geelong and the Latrobe Valley, the Environment Protection Authority says.
Mr Efron said the encroaching smoke could blanket the city before a wind change hit on Tuesday afternoon.
But EPA chief environmental scientist Dr Andrea Hinwood said the smoke might not lift until Wednesday.
“We might see some light relief [before Wednesday], but we might not,” Dr Hinwood said.
She added that it would require “drenching” rain to dispel the smoke, with only light showers forecast for Monday afternoon and no rain expected on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Dr Hinwood said the smoke was coming from Tasmania as well as the fires burning in Victoria’s east.
Mr Efron said smoke could keep conditions stable for fire-affected communities by keeping temperatures down and by stopping winds from developing.
“It does show the conditions are relatively stable in the lower atmosphere, but it’s still obviously very unpleasant.”
Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton said bushfire smoke carries the same dangers as other smog or air pollution.
“The bushfire smoke is hazardous. Often, recycling fires are called toxic, but bushfire smoke is also toxic,” he said.
“There are health effects from bushfire smoke that are really the same as any other smoke you can think of.”
Dr Sutton reiterated that generic surgical masks and bandanas were basically useless in filtering the harmful effects of smoke.
Vulnerable people, such as those with asthma, pregnant women and the elderly, are encouraged to purchase specifically-designed P2 or N95 masks.
“A P2 or N95 mask – the ones that you can get at hardware stores that often have a little valve for breathing, and look for the P2 or N95 descriptor – those masks can filtrate the particles that we’re talking about here,” Dr Sutton told reporters on Monday.
The EPA says people should stay indoors where possible and keep windows and doors shut, switch airconditioners to ‘recirculate’, and keep pets indoors.
Anyone with asthma should have their medication on hand.
Symptoms can include eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, sneezing and congestion.
An Ambulance Victoria spokesman said so far he was not aware of a spike in calls due to asthma or air pollution.
Call triple-zero if your life is in danger.
Rachel is a breaking news reporter for The Age.
Michael is a reporter for The Age.