Large losses of stocks when fire rages through farms, forest in western Victoria, more dangerous conditions today

Thousands of livestock and numerous farm structures have been lost to a grass fire that is still out of control after crossing into Victoria from South Australia on New Year’s Eve, with firefighters battling more dangerous weather conditions today.

As temperatures rose above the state again before a cool change, the fire near the small farmhouse Poolaijelo, southwest of Edenhope in the Wimmera region, is not yet under control and emergency warnings are at guard and action level.

Residents of Langkoop, Poolajielo and Powers Creek have been advised to leave now. An emergency center is open at Edenhope Senior Citizens Center, 54 Langford St, Edenhope.

The fire started at Wrattonbully on the SA side of the border yesterday when a car caught fire and set grass on fire. Crews from SA and Victoria worked overnight to fight the fire, with helicopters and fixed-wing bombers called.

new year wimmera grass bonfire flames from fire truck
This shot of a CFA volunteer in Victoria on New Year’s Eve captures the intensity of the flames.(Delivered by: Chris Toms)

Incident leader Mark Gunning, of the Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, told ABC there were no reports of lost homes, but structures, including haystacks, had been destroyed.

“When it first passed Poolaijelo, it came into some blue-rubber land and a very old native forest that is very famous for its red-tailed black cockatoos, so assessments today will assess the damage in there,” Mr Gunning said.

Some roads are closed, including Edenhope-Penola Road and part of Casterton-Apsley Road.

Local veterinarian Claire Law said thousands of livestock, mainly sheep, that were severely burned or will surely suffer in the coming days, had been destroyed today.

“But more will come over the next few weeks when the extent of their burns, the damage, comes to the surface,” she said.

“It’s pretty hard for the farmers and the people on earth to have to do that kind of work.”

Smoke from a distant grass fire waves into the blue sky with bare, brown folds in the foreground.
The fire has today taken hold in an old native blue forest.(Delivered by: Deb Toms)

Dr. Law said the community was “very fortunate that the houses appeared to survive,” given the path of the fire following a wind change and the extent of damage to some farms.

“It kind of swung around and went in a direction that people had not anticipated because of the original wind direction,” she said.

Community meetings to help farmers

Dr. Law said farmers now face months of work repairing fences, providing feed for supplies and replacing damaged property.

The fire follows after nearly two years of struggling to navigate border restrictions, but the “close” community has been quick to respond.

“I get messages from people further afield just to see what they can do to help, so it really shows the positivity of those kinds of communities in these kinds of times,” said Dr. Law.

“Any kind of feed we can get here and help these people out would be greatly appreciated.”

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There are also concerns about the wildlife, with the fire burning in the heavily forested Meereek State Forest.

Concerns about dry lightning

CFA Deputy Chief Garry Cook said the weekend’s dangerous fire conditions were a reminder to “be very vigilant if you enjoy the outdoors” with vegetation “prepared to burn”.

The weather bureau has announced that there will likely be dry lightning this afternoon “from west Melbourne, all the way up to west Victoria around Horsham and back down into the Otway area”, Cook said.

Parts of central and eastern Gippsland also face risks of dry lightning, although conditions in the eastern part of the state are less dry than in the western part.

Fire hazard ratings across Victoria are high to very high.

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