LANDOWNERS have been urged to clean up now after the region was hit hard during the worst fire day in nine years.
Firefighters are frustrated safety messages did not sink in before more than 150 fires erupted across Victoria on Thursday, despite months of warnings about the need to get properties ready for summer.
It is one problem the Country Fire Authority's district two operations manager Bill Johnstone has highlighted as emergency services delve into what went right and what did not.
"For the most part, restrictions have been in place in the area for a couple of weeks. It (cleaning up) should be done by now," he said.
"There will still, maybe, be fuel mitigation works done but they won't include burning, instead they will be things like cleaning gutters and cutting grass."
Every season there are people who burn-off after the fire danger period is declared, Mr Johnstone said.
"With the best of intentions, maybe, they light a fire to burn off some rubbish," he said.
"It's a bit like the speed limit - people still speed. It is unfortunate but it does happen. Not everyone hears the message or is aware of the conditions."
While parts of the district had not entered fire bans when the code red was declared, Mr Johnstone said people should have had plenty of time to get ready by late November.
'We have never experienced something like this in our area'
Veteran firefighter Murray McDonald said landowners in central Victoria's north - where one out-of-control fire ripped into structures and killed livestock - should also consider working more closely to cut down on fire risks.
"There's quite a few lessons there," the former Timmering brigade captain said.
"When you combine Thursday's fires with those happening up in New South Wales there needs to be a lot more localised planning and fire prevention work done by the community."
The Strathallan fire near Rochester erupted in extreme heat and strong winds during the first "code red" day the region has witnessed in nine years.
"We have never experienced something like this in our area. We have had serious stubble fires but Thursday was something I have never experienced before, with the wind."
At its worst, a wind gust of 89km/hour was recorded in Bendigo, one of the closer Bureau of Meteorology weather stations to Strathallan.
The 2.35pm blast was nearly double the 52km/hour wind that was blowing at the time and was one of may to buffet firefighters working to contain flames.
Some at the scene reported gusts kicking up enough ash to obscure vision for minutes at a time.
Even away from the fire smoke hung thick in the sky.
"You just couldn't get any picture of where the fire was because there was this fog of dust and smoke through the entire area," Mr McDonald said.
We were really tested. At one stage we had mobilised most of the brigades in this district.Bill Johnstone, CFA district two operations manager
The fire underlines the need for landholders to come closer together, with leadership provided by the CFA and the local council, he said.
"This needs a lot of careful consideration and detailed planning. I can see localised groups of people getting together to develop their own fire plans," Mr McDonald said.
"By this I don't mean scorched earth. I mean a bit more slashing and reducing fire risks around buildings.
"You can't tell people what to do on their private land but you can give them some good advice to reduce those hazards."
What went right: firefighters, farmers stepped up
While there is "always room for improvement", Mr Johnstone is pleased with the way emergency services dealt with trying conditions.
"I am really proud of the way our people responded to events," he said.
Mr McDonald agrees.
"You talk to our (Timmering) crew about some of the situations they got into, with the wind changes, it wasn't a comfortable thing to be in," he said.
Mr Johnstone is also grateful to community members who pitched in as fires across central Victoria stretched firefighters.
As well as the Strathallan fire, CFA crews were drawn to other blazes including in Hunter, near Elmore, at Mount Glasgow, near Maryborough, and Natte Yallock, south-west of Dunolly.
"There were landholders who were on to fires to help their neighbours out. We couldn't have done it without them," CFA district two operations manager Bill Johnstone said.
As Strathallan's fire crossed a rail line and a road residents brought in their own water-carrying trucks to help where they could.
"The fire in Hunter, I know, could have been somewhat bigger too," Mr Johnstone said.
"We were just about on our knees when that fire (in Hunter) started so the community's response was amazing."
The CFA's district two - which stretches from Elmore down to the Macedon Ranges - has 76 firefighting tanks.
At some points on Thursday 50 had hit the road to fight fires and trucks were being deployed from as far away as the Latrobe Valley to back them up, Mr Johnstone said.
Twenty of the state's 150-plus grass fires were still burning at midday on Friday.
Victorian minister for police and emergency services Lisa Neville urged people in those communities to stay vigilant and heed emergency warnings.
"The code red day played out exactly how our agencies predicted it would and was a glimpse of the hot and dry fire season ahead of us," she said.
"Yesterday's events should also serve as a reminder that communities, families and individuals need to plan, prepare and know where to receive emergency information."
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