Toolleen fire: Extreme fire danger poses further threat

VIDEO: Amazing footage shows ferocity of the fire

LUCKY ESCAPE: Vineyard escapes serious damage, as flames surround their home

CLEAN UP: CFA crews use thermal imaging, as they brace for Saturday's dangerous fire period

RAVAGED: Winemaker shelters from flames in shed, loses 50 per cent of vineyard

NEW VIDEO: Great insight into work of fire fighting crews from land and air at the height of the Toolleen fire

NEW FIRE: CFA issues advice warning for Berrimal fire

GALLERY: Toolleen fire - the battle in pictures

EDITORIAL: Team effort saves the day at Toolleen

PICTURES: Vineyard office beats the flames

UPDATE 9PM FRIDAY: Fire crews are bracing for extreme fire danger today as threats remain for more fires at Toolleen. 

Firefighters have spent more than 24 hours containing a grassfire that threatened homes and destroyed 200 sheep and more than 1100 hectares of grassland.

Embers continued to burn yesterday as crews spent the day mopping up and blacking out hot spots.

Toolleen CFA incident controller Frank Oliver said he was particularly concerned about today's weather conditions.

He said the risk of another fast-moving grassfire loomed as a "major concern" after the Boxing Day fire was sparked on a day that wasn't deemed high-risk.

"With this wind and weather it's an extreme fire risk and a high danger period," he said.

A Total Fire Ban is in place today for the Central, Northern Country and Mallee regions, with a forecast top of 38 degrees in Bendigo.

Property owners in Toolleen say they're on alert for any flare-ups as they begin the job of assessing and repairing the trail of damage.

UPDATE 3.10PM: The DEPI says about 200 sheep were killed in the fires around Toolleen.

A DEPI spokeswoman said veterinarians remained on scene assessing a number of different properties.

UPDATE 2.55PM: Winemaker Brian Spencer says if it wasn't for the help of neighbours armed with hoses and buckets a fire would have destroyed his house and his entire vineyard.

Mr Spencer's Cornella Ridge Estate winery was one of the hardest hit properties by a grassfire in Toolleen on Boxing Day.

About half of his 20 acres of vines were lost.

Wooden sheds that were more than 100 years old were burnt to the ground and flames came within metres of the house and cellar door.

Mr Spencer took shelter in his 2m by 2m pump shed as the fire approached.

"The flames came within half a metre of the shed," he said.

"The flames were really high and coming toward the property. I was in the shed with the door open and could see it was coming down the hill really fast.

"Fortunately it ferocity died down dramatically and it stopped just short."

Mr Spencer said it would be a major task to try and salvage the remaining grapes and get water pumps and piping installed in time.

UPDATE 2.20PM: The Country Fire Authority has declared Saturday a day of Total Fire Ban in the fire districts of Northern Country, Mallee, Wimmera, North East, Central, North Central and South West.

Not sure of your fire district? Find out here

UPDATE 11.55AM: A TOOLLEEN vineyard manager says they 'got off pretty lightly' as fire tore through the property on Thursday.

The fast-moving grass fire surrounded the Chinaman's Bend vineyard office and a neighbouring house.

The blaze destroyed about three acres of their vines and came within 20 metres of the office.

Manager Bruce Farren was at home in Bendigo when he first saw scenes of the fire on the TV news.

"I saw the vineyard and you could make out the office then everything was just black," he said.

"I think it looked worse than it actually was.

''We ended up getting off pretty lightly."

The couple that live in the neighbouring house were home at the time and said they were relieved the blaze bypassed them.

"I called them straight after seeing the news," Mr Farren said.

"By that stage they said it was largely contained.

"I think it was a bit of luck that it didn't come nearer."

Mr Farren said he was still cleaning up and assessing the damage Friday morning.

He said only a small section of their 70 hectares of Shiraz grapes were destroyed.

"The thing now will be preparing for Saturday, it sounds like it's going to be pretty horrible conditions. We've got to do the cleaning so hopefully there's no flare ups."

More than 25 firefighters are at the base of the fire that spread over Toolleen.

CFA incident controller Frank Oliver said they would be mopping up the entire day.

He said Saturday's extreme fire danger loomed as a 'major concern'.

Thermal imaging cameras on the ground, and in the air from fixed wing aircraft, have assessed hot spots.

Leading firefighter Bob Lindsay said the base of some trees were still burning at temperatures close to 500 degrees.

UPDATE 11.45AM: County Fire Authority crews continue to target hot spots as property owners in the Toolleen area count the cost of Thursday's fire.

UPDATE 8.30AM FRIDAY: Ground crews will use thermal imaging cameras to check for hots spots on Friday morning.

A CFA spokesman said a helicopter would also fly over the area.

"Crews remained on scene overnight patrolling the fire, blacking out," he said.

The fire burnt more than 1130 hectares of land.

"It took more than 200 firefighters with support from water bombing aircraft more than two hours to bring the fire under control due to windy conditions," the spokesman said.

"A firefighter was treated on scene for heat exhaustion, there have been no further reports of injuries.

"A local vineyard was impacted by the fire but the extent of damage is not know.

"We know there have been reports of stock loss."

UPDATE 9.02PM, THURSDAY: THE CFA has confirmed that a fire, which has burnt more than 1130 hectares of land, was caused by a harvester. 

Incident controller Les Vearing said it came as a timely reminder as what could happen on hot days. 

He said harvesters had caused at least ten fires in the Loddon-Mallee region this year - a figure he says is far too many. 

"All it takes is one spark," he said. 

"(Yesterday) is proof of what can happen and these sorts of fires are starting to become a trend unfortunately."

He urged farmers to conduct regular maintenance work of their farming equipment. 

"We also encourage them not to work with harvesters in the heat of the day, which is what happened (yesterday)," he said. 

"Farmers are also required to have a fully operational fire extinguisher attached to the harvester to stop things like this happening."

He also encouraged people to remain vigilant throughout the summer months, especially on extreme fire days.

The Mallee, Wimmera and Northern Country municipalities have all been issued with an extreme fire danger warning this Saturday. 

UPDATE 8.37PM, THURSDAY: A TOOLLEEN resident has told of the devastating stock losses following a fire that tore through the region yesterday. 

Luke Kerr-Taylor was just one of dozens of volunteers who helped battle the blaze, which continues to burn. 

He said it was overwhelming to see the force of the fire. 

"There was just so much heat as we were putting out the spot fires and when we left it was still really full on," he said. 

"There was a lot of dead livestock, more than 30 just in a five minute drive, and there's still a lot out there suffering from the heat tonight. 

"It hurt a bit to see that - them just lying there."

Mr Kerr-Taylor said the town remained upbeat. 

"There's a whole vineyard that's been lost, and so much more," he said. 

"It sucks but what can you do?

"It's definitely not over yet, but we'll work together to get the fire out and move on."

UPDATE 7.45PM, THURSDAY: Video footage provided by Luke Wallis shows the ferocity of the Toolleen fire.

UPDATE 7.16PM, THURSDAY: Ten fire crews will continue to battle a grassfire in Toolleen overnight.

The fire has already destroyed 1132 hectares of land and burnt several vineyards, with one firefighter taken to hospital with heat exhaustion and DEPI vets also tending to stock losses throughout the area.

Incident controller Les Vearing said fire crews would concentrate on the northern flank of the blaze overnight, hoping to ease the threat before Saturday's dangerous fire period.

"It's still pretty windy out there but we are trying to have it blacked out by tomorrow night to prepare for severe conditions ahead," he said.

Mr Vearing said there had been no loss of infrastructure at this stage, with the fire no longer threatening property.

26 CFA tankers remain on scene, with eight support vehicles, three DEPI tankers, one fixed wing bomber, two air attack helicopters and three fire bombing helicopters dispatched throughout the day. 

Mr Vearing said roads would remain closed until later tonight. 

"The fire is not spreading but there is still a lot of fire trucks on the road and a lot of smoke out there," he said.

He said no evacuations had occurred. 

The cause of the fire, which started burning at 2.41pm today, is yet to be determined. 

UPDATE 6.11PM, THURSDAY: A fire in Toollen has been controlled by CFA crews.

A CFA spokesperson has confirmed crews have contained the fire, which continues to burn. 

The warning message has now been downgraded.

UPDATE 5.30PM, THURSDAY: At least one resident is battling to save their property. 

The Bendigo Advertiser has spoken to one man who was fighting the fire. 

UPDATE 5PM, THURSDAY: Colbinabbin resident Molly Branson says residents around the fires are relaxed. 

Ms Branson, who lives on the Heathcote Rochester Road, said she was not panicking despite emergency warnings in her area. 

"We're pretty relaxed," she said. 

"We've talked to friends who are a bit closer. 

"They think it's pretty under control and they're pretty confident. 

"We're not too fussed to be honest."

About 30 CFA appliances are attending the fire around Toolleen, which is also threatening Colbinabbin and Redcastle. 

UPDATE 4.25PM, THURSDAY: The CFA has now issued an emergency warning for Toolleen, Redcastle and Colbinabbin.

The warning states: ''The Toolleen, Colbinabbin, Redcastle grassfire is currently not yet under control.
 
''Firefighters have been unable to stop the fire and it has now crossed the Heathcote and Rochester road and is moving towards township and district of Colbinabbin.
 
''A wind change has caused the large fire to increase.
 
''Spot fires and ember attacks are starting up to 800 metres ahead of the main fire.
 
''You are now in immediate danger, act now to protect yourself. Emergency services may not be able to help you.''

UPDATE 3.59PM, THURSDAY: Toolleen Country Retreat owner Jane Anderson says the boarding kennels are not under threat from a fast moving grassfire. 

The CFA has urged Toolleen, Redcastle and Colbinabbin residents to evacuate their homes as the fire burns out of control. 

Ms Anderson says the fire seemed to be moving away from the town. 

"I am concerned but not panicked," she said.

"It's frustrating because no one wants a fire."

UPDATE 3.44PM, THURSDAY: The CFA is urging Toolleen, Redcastle and Colbinabbin residents to evacuate their homes as a fire burns out of control. 

The official emergency warning says there is a 50-hectare grassfire travelling fast in a south easterly direction towards the townships.  

"This fire is in the location of McNamara Road and Hamblin Roads Toolleen," it says. 

"The fire could impact districts any time between now and 5pm.

"Don't wait, leaving now is the safest option - conditions may change and get worse very quickly."

Emergency services are also attending a fire at Mount Camel. 

UPDATE 3.40PM, THURSDAY: Toolleen Pub employee Corrine Delany has described panic in the air, as a fire spreads near Toolleen. 

She said the out-of-control fire was only 10 minutes from the township. 

"Everyone is worrying whether it's going to be controlled and it's getting pretty close. We can already see the smoke over the hill," she said. 

"No one knows anything because there has been no information relayed to the community. 

"I had a call from a lady who is evacuating her parents, who like only four kilometres from the fire."

EARLIER: Seventeen CFA fire units are battling to extinguish a 20-hectare grass fire in Toolleen which is threatening nearby property. 

The CFA was notified of the fire at 2.41pm, which is currently still burning. 

A CFA spokesperson said an emergency warning had been issued, but could not confirm if any properties were under threat. 

Do you have any information regarding the fire? Send us your news tips and any photos to cos@bendigoadvertiser.com.au

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