VIDEO: Towns on edge as fire fronts merge

Source: The Standard, The Courier

Residents in the south-west Victorian district of Dunkeld were on edge last night as three bushfires merged to create a huge front heading south towards the town.

Main tourist routes into the southern portion of the Grampians were closed and by late in the afternoon the fire front had reached the Victoria Valley Road, less than 30 kilometres from Dunkeld.

A separate fire came close to Melbourne's outer northern suburbs, destroying one home.

VIDEO: Chris Chambers prepared this time lapse video of the smoke plume from a fire north of Melbourne as seen from the 11th floor of the Bureau of Meteorology yesterday.

About 300 firefighters using dozens of vehicles and 14 aircraft were battling to control the Grampians blazes, fanned by a strong north-westerly wind ahead of a south-westerly change expected late last night.

Earlier in the day, emergency alerts were issued for residents of Mirranatwa and Victoria Valley as thick smoke from two large fronts blanketed their homes and temperatures hovered in the high 30s. 

By 5pm, those blazes had merged with a third and spot fires were breaking out a kilometre ahead of the main front.

It was estimated at 3260 hectares in size.

However, firefighters from the CFA and government departments managed to save buildings and livestock in its path.

The fire emergency has had little impact on tourism in the area, with operators saying business is strong despite more than 25 fires burning nearby for more than a week. 

The majority of business owners contacted by Fairfax Regional Media said there had been no decline in visitor numbers, and cited the jazz festival two weekends ago and the ‘show and shine’event last weekend as the reason for the steady number of tourists. 

Grampians Tourism CEO Will Flamsteed said the response from tourism operators in the region had been positive.

“We’ve yet to have any reports from tourist operators that the fires have had a negative effect on business,” Mr Flamsteed said.

“The actual fires aren’t too close to tourism hot spots, and the last couple of weeks have actually been very busy thanks to the jazz festival and the car show at the weekend.”

Caravan parks in the region reported high tourist numbers, with the Halls Gap Caravan Park and Big 4 Parkgate Resort saying they were fully booked for the last two weekends.

Owner of Baroka Downs Bob Adams said business at his luxury accommodation venue in Halls Gap remained steady during what was generally a quiet time of the year.

“We haven’t had anyone cancel bookings and I think the popularity of recent events has ensured we’ve remained busy,” Mr Adams said. 

One tourist operator disagreed with claims that tourism was “business as usual.”

The Mountain Grand Hotel owner Don Calvert said although tourist operators in the Grampians would like people to believe everything was normal, it wasn’t the case.

“Numbers are definitely down due to the fires, and you can notice that all around town,” Mr Calvert said.

“Anyone who says anything different isn’t being entirely honest.”

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