“We’ve got a long way to go, and again my message is to everyone, continue to follow the advice, whether it’s about flash flooding, whether it’s about the roads being too dangerous due to fire activity,” Ms Neville said.
“And we will need to move firefighters from the ground. We’ve had deaths as a result of people being on wet fire grounds like that where you’ve had flash flooding.”
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast 30 to 50 millimetres of rain until Tuesday, with some areas experiencing up to 150 millimetres.
Fourteen fires continue to burn throughout Victoria. Authorities said on Sunday that 396 homes and 614 outbuildings such as sheds had already been lost.
An elderly NSW man became the latest victim of Australia’s horror bushfire season on Sunday, bringing the national death toll to 28.
Ms Neville said 220 new blazes had started in Victoria in the past week alone, including a bushfire that burnt through 87 hectares of forest on French Island on Saturday afternoon.
No homes were lost in the French Island fire, but the outbuildings of one property were destroyed, according to the State Control Centre. Investigators travelled to the island on Sunday to determine the cause of the blaze. Local firefighters believe it was started by a lightning strike.
Residents have praised aerial firefighting efforts, which they say saved their properties while CFA tankers were forced to wait for a barge to slowly transport them across the water.
SCC state response controller Alistair Drayton said air-bombers were vital in subduing the spread of fire on French Island.
“The damage could well have been much greater than it was, given the quite incredible fire behaviour. At one point there were six aircraft working on the fire,” he said.
French Island is Victoria’s largest island, home to 119 people. It is also a haven for koalas and its chlamydia-free animal population is sometimes used to repopulate other areas.
Meteorologist Dean Narramore said the “hit and miss” nature of the rainfall statewide meant the wet conditions would not be enough to put out the fires.
“These fires, as you know, are large and cover a huge area,” Mr Narramore said.
“But we could also see the risk of this heavy rainfall falling on these fire zones and causing debris flows and issues with the clogging-up of rivers or stream systems because of heavy rain running off and collecting, unfortunately, all the vegetation, debris lying around after these fires.”
Ms Neville said crews had been working tirelessly to clear the roads leading to isolated towns, but their efforts were incessantly hampered by new trees falling down.
She said satellite phones, eight tonnes of non-perishable food and 800 kilograms of fresh food had been airlifted into towns left stranded by fires.
“It’s been a long time for people, but I can assure everyone we’re getting hay in, we’re getting food in, and our key priority is getting that road open,” Ms Neville said.
She cited a recent example in which the road to Tamboon, near Cann River, had been cleared using special equipment, but hours later as crews attempted to drive back out, more trees had fallen, again blocking the road.
“So that’s the sort of thing that people are confronting out there,” Ms Neville said.
Authorities have also begun helping residents and tourists return to Mallacoota, where 4000 people were trapped for four days until Australian Defence Force ships arrived to rescue them.
More than 900 people have so far registered with the Police Assistance Line to return to Mallacoota, including 300 who asked to be airlifted. About 70 people will fly in on Monday morning.
Natural Disaster Minister David Littleproud was in Melbourne on Sunday to announce a joint federal and state $75 million clean-up package for bushfire-ravaged communities.
Although there have been calls for Australia to increase its permanent aerial firefighting fleet,Mr Littleproud said he would heed the advice of the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council.
“There’s a lot of sideline commentators but I want to listen to the fire commissioners, they’re the ones with the expertise, they’re the ones with the science that should guide our decisions and where we take the aerial assets that we have in this country,” Mr Littleproud said.
On Sunday morning, the state opposition called on the Andrews government to have Parliament sit in East Gippsland and north-east Victoria for a week, saying it would give a much-needed economic boost to those towns.
Ms Neville brushed off those calls, saying such a move would divert resources and cost millions of dollars. She said the Labor Party was having its caucus conference at Lakes Entrance next month.
People who want to return to Mallacoota are urged to register with the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.
With Ashleigh McMillan
Sumeyya is state political reporter for The Age.