“It doesn’t take much to start a fire,” seasoned Incident Controller Les Vearing said as he prepares for another day at the helm of the Incident Control Centre.
During days where severe and extreme fire danger ratings are in place, Incident Control Centres are established.
Today and tomorrow, one will be in operation at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning offices in Epsom.
With the mercury set to rise to 45 degrees, the heat, in combination with dry, windy conditions, is a recipe for fires to start, and develop quickly, Mr Vearing said.
“If we get a bad fire going on Friday, once it gets established we won’t be able to put it out, we’ll have to wait for better conditions,” he said.
“The reality is you can have all the resources in the world but under those conditions we're not going to be able to put it out.”
That said, hundreds of staff and volunteers across a range of organisations, from the CFA to DELWP, Forest Fire Management Victoria, Victoria Police and the State Emergency Service, will all be on deck.
Some will be at the Incident Control Centre while others will be scattered across the district, which covers large expanses of central and northern Victoria, from Kyneton in the south to Lake Boga in the North and St Arnaud in the west.
Aside from the densely populated areas, like on the Murray River in Echuca, there were no particular areas the incident Control Centre was focused on, Mr Vearing said.
He said the various agencies combined their respective skills sets on the day to provide a broad spectrum of emergency management to protect the community.
Victoria Police for example would organise road blocks, while Ambulance Victoria treats those affected by the heat.
FFMV, the firefighting arm of DELWP, would assist various CFA volunteer crews on the ground, some of which will be waiting at the fire station on extreme fire danger days, rather than having to travel in from work.
Bulldozers and graders remain on standby to cut the fire path of either grass or bushfires, Mr Vearing said.
As do the City of Greater Bendigo, which can provide a range of services for people who might be displaced during a fire.
Two years without major fires in the region could make people become complacent, Mr Vearing said.
“Last year was quiet, this year has been relatively quiet so far but you never know when they’re going to come,” he said.
Read more: Dozens of large fires in central Victoria
“The last significant event was Black Saturday ten years ago but we do get a lot of medium-sized fires in the area we cover.”
Despite the lack of recent fire activity, general awareness of fires, how they can start, and how to prepare for them, had improved, he said.
“People are becoming more aware of it and hopefully less inclined to do high-risk activities,” he said.
Those activities include cutting grass and open air angle grinding or welding.
Review your fire plan
Mr Vearing reiterated the prominent fire safety message to the community.
“People need to be actively reviewing their fire plans and implement them and if their plan is to not stay and defend their property then they need to leave early,” he said.
“You don't want to be trying to evacuate as the fire is coming towards you.
“Now is too late to start doing those last minute preparations – whipper snipping – it’s too late - all you're going to be doing is starting a bushfire.”
Police contact known fire bugs
Police are contacting known fire bugs ahead of an expected 45 degree day, blustery conditions and a total fire ban.
People with a history of lighting fires could “cause a lot of harm and some simple phone calls and contact can go a long way to helping prevent that”, police Acting Inspector David Rowe said.
Anybody acting recklessly by burning off, not putting out campfires properly or using machinery would also be targeted by police.
“We don’t want people using angle grinders and welders being used on these really hot days,” Acting Inspector Rowe said.
“If anybody sees someone using equipment in a risky way, call out that behaviour. They just need someone to tap them on the shoulder and say ‘stop doing that’.”
Police and fire crews are readying for hot blustery conditions on Friday, with temperatures in the 43-46 degree range across central and northern Victoria, along with the danger of fires suddenly changing direction.
CFA district two acting operations officer Chris Jacobsen said they were preparing for fires driven by a predicted dry, northwesterly, followed by a change to a gusty southwesterly later in the day.
The Bureau of Meteorology has predicated light winds of 20 to 30 km/h in Bendigo and Echuca, but in the Castlemaine, Kyneton and Maryborough areas that that could gust up to 40km/h.
A severe weather warning for damaging winds, associated with a cool change in the afternoon, has been issued for parts of central Victoria.
Mr Jacobsen said a wind change could shift the direction of any fire, in some cases by as much as 90 degrees
“So it could take only a short amount of time for it to double in size,” he said.
Mr Jacobsen said crews would be ready across the region, with volunteers told early Friday morning what conditions to expect. They would also informed to keep their pagers close at all times.
Some brigades would organise both a first response and relief crews, while the CFA would prepare in case it needed to deploy mobile command centres and extra “strike teams” of vehicles, Mr Jacobsen said.
Police planned to set up a control centre at the Bendigo police station and patrols would be heightened through forests and other high risk areas, Acting Inspector Rowe said
They would be looking out for anybody known to be a potential arsonist.
He said Victoria Police regularly draw up lists of people to keep an eye on, with some under focus because of a mental health issue or because they had demonstrated criminal intent
“A lot of that is based on their prior behaviour,” Acting Inspector Rowe said.
Contacting those people was a way for police to get an idea about their location and to make sure they had access to the support they needed.
For many emergency responders the priority on a high fire danger day was to work with government agencies to plan and coordinate responses, with inter-agency incident centres operating across the state.
“Should anything occur we can move into a planned response phase quite quickly,” Acting Inspector Rowe said.
Warning for heat-related illness
The Department of Health and Human Services has issued heat health alerts for the Mallee, Wimmera, Northern Country, North Central and North East district with most of Victoria set for temperatures of more than 40 degrees.
Dehydration, lack of airflow, sun exposure and hot and crowded conditions can cause heat stress or heat related illness.
Symptoms include deterioration in existing medical conditions, heat rash, heat cramps, dizziness and fainting, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
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