The blaze prompted evacuations in two towns popular with holidaymakers, Wye River and Separation Creek, southwest of Melbourne, yesterday. "I can confirm that 35 houses are gone in Wye River, 18 are gone in Separation Creek," Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews said, adding that the fire stopped just 500 metres short of another town.
Andrews said the consolation was that no lives were lost in the state which endured horrific bushfires in 2009, in which 173 people perished.
"We can rebuild houses, of course. Things can be much worse than that," Andrews told a press conference. Hundreds of firefighters battling the blaze were helped by rainfall overnight, but winds are a cause for concern and some roads are closed. The fire near the coastal town of Lorne was started by a lightning strike on December 19 but flared up yesterday due to hot weather and winds pushing embers over fire control lines.
Emergency Management Victoria commissioner Craig Lapsley praised the community for heeding the evacuation warning just before lunchtime on Christmas Day to avoid the possibility of fatalities. "They walked away from the fire that had every potential to be a killer," he said at a joint press conference with Andrews.
Lapsley warned the fire, which is not particularly large at 2,200 hectares, had the potential to flare up again in the coming week. "The fact we have had rain today across the state will not dramatically change anything," he said, saying very hot weather was predicted for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Holidaymakers who traditionally flock to the Victoria surf coast at this time of year have been asked to avoid the fire area. Bush fires are a common feature of the Australian summer, with up to 15 homes destroyed by blaze near Melbourne on Monday.
But "Black Saturday" was the worst firestorm in recent years, devastating southern Victoria in 2009, razing thousands of homes and killing 173 people. Seven people have died so far this year from bushfires across the country.