“The next 24 hours will see the most significant fire risk posed to this state so far this season,” said Jason Heffernan, Country Fire Authority Chief Officer, on Sunday.
“Heatwave conditions will continue to build overnight and will peak tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to see a significant amount of wind, which will really build those fire dangers. Some parts of the state will see 50-60km/h wind gusts.”
Authorities have urged Victorians living in and visiting bushfire-prone areas to download the VicEmergency app, tune in to their local emergency broadcaster, prepare their properties, have a fire plan and know when to enact the plan.
The CFA has declared a total fire ban for the Mallee, Wimmera, northern Country, North Central and North East areas, and warned about the increased grass fire risk in Melbourne as a result of significant winter and spring rainfall.
Forest Fire Management chief fire officer Chris Hardman pleaded with people to extinguish their campfires, saying 10 per cent of bushfires occurred as a result of people leaving campfires unattended.
“Don’t think just because it’s a small fire by your campsite that it’s OK,” he said. “It’s not OK. You’re putting others at risk. Behave appropriately and remember, put it out with water. If it’s not cool to touch, it’s definitely not cool to leave.”
He said fires should be extinguished with water, not soil, warning embers could otherwise be easily ignited by gusts of wind.
Despite the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, emergency services are well prepared for this year’s bushfire season, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
“It’s presented some challenges – we haven’t been able to get out and do the face-to-face briefings that we normally would have done,” he said.
“However, we’ve done that online. We’ve done that in such an effective way that it’s been a lot more flexible for volunteers to actually participate.”
Victoria has contracted 51 aircraft for this year’s bushfire season, including water bombing aircraft, air supervision and air intelligence-gathering aircraft.
Meanwhile, Mr Crisp urged Victorians to heed water safety advice, after two men died in the water in separate incidents on Saturday.
One man died after he was pulled from the water at Thirteenth Beach in Barwon Heads, and another died after being in water off Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road.
Mr Crisp said 42 Victorians had drowned since July last year, including seven in the past 10 days, and he urged people to swim between the flags, understand their limits and be cognisant of water conditions.
“We talk about the numbers and in some respects it’s easy to talk about the numbers, but what we are talking about are people: we’re talking about sons, daughters, about fathers, mothers,” he said.
“What that means is these families will be impacted forever and a day. It means on those significant family events, birthdays and weddings, there’ll be an empty seat at the table. We’ve got a lot of summer to go. Do you want there to be an empty seat at your table?”
Ambulance Victoria recorded a spike in calls on Sunday morning for heat-related illnesses and had attended to 24 calls since Thursday about people left in cars.
Director of emergency management Justin Dunlop said leaving someone unattended in a car for even a few minutes could be fatal.
He also urged people to look out for signs of heat-related illnesses, which include twitchy and cramped muscles and light-headedness, and to move out of the heat. He said signs of heatstroke included difficulty speaking and moving, and strong headaches.
Mr Dunlop urged people to reserve calls to Ambulance Victoria for emergencies only.
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Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org