Forest / Wild Fire in Australia on March 18 2018 06:05 AM (UTC).
Up to a dozen homes have been destroyed or damaged as out-of-control bush and grass fires continue to burn in western Victoria. An unknown number of sheds and pieces of farm machinery, as well as hundreds of beef and dairy cattle have been destroyed, with approximately 40,000 hectares of land damaged. About 280 firefighters are working on the blazes, with assistance from 29 aircraft. Many of the fires were started by lightning, Victorian emergency officials said. About 800 people reported to five relief centres and more than 400 people asked for help from the State Emergency Service. Those in relief centres can apply for a hardship payment of about $1,500. Victorian Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said most of the fires were started by a lightning front that went through the region. "But there are fire investigators on the ground as we speak to make a full determination of the causes of the fires," he said. There are five main fires of concern. They include the Gazette, Penshurst fire north-west of Warrnambool; the Gavroc fire south-west of Terang; the Terang, Cobden fire which is causing the most concern; and a smaller fire at Camperdown, east of Terang. There are currently three emergency warnings for grass fires at Simpson and Carlisle River and surrounding areas, Cobden and Camperdown. An emergency warning for Hawkesdale has been downgraded to a watch and act. There are a number of other watch and act messages current. At one point, up to 40 towns were issued with an emergency warning or watch and act alert as hot weather and strong winds caused numerous blazes to flare across farmland around Camperdown, Warrnambool and Hamilton. Elle Moyle, from Gazette, north of Warrnambool, told 774 ABC Melbourne that the fire started about five kilometres north of her place about 9:30pm or 10:00pm - and came "really close". Scott Page, a CFA volunteer, was called to fight the Gazette fire, and saw three houses destroyed by fire. He said the fire was moving quickly. "It was screaming through alright," he said. "By the time we got there we were just flanking it off and just trying to protect a few houses around there. "The damage was already done. There were already a couple of houses gone when we got there. "Then the embers lit up around the third house and they had to pull out. It just got too hot and dangerous." Corangamite Shire Mayor Jo Beard told local radio that the fires took them by surprise and that a lot of houses and sheds had been lost. "Well there's some massive properties, dairy properties, I've heard of people having to bunker down in dairies, in the pits in the dairies," she said. Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said it was "challenging" to fight the blazes at night time. "The challenge is you can't get fire trucks into some areas in the darkness," he said. "But we were able to issue warnings that meant the community could make decisions about what they needed to do, particularly through the night." He said they knew the fire threat was real after 40 days without rain. "The fact that we haven't had death or injury in what are intense fires is somewhat successful," he said. "By the same token we have seen real communities impacted." At one point 22,000 people had lost power because of the high winds.