Man dies, homes lost as blaze sweeps through Gippsland

A BUSHFIRE burning out of control in Gippsland has left one man dead, destroyed homes and burnt thousands of hectares of farmland while firefighters in NSW continue to battle blazes under trying conditions after a band of lightning moved through the state overnight.


CFA Firefighters said the conditions were ''as bad as it can get'' and feared it could take weeks to contain the Gippsland fire, which has burnt more than 48,000 hectares.

Police confirmed a man died in a burning vehicle in Seaton, 200 kilometres east of Melbourne, about 5pm on Friday. The body is yet to be identified.

News of the death - Victoria's first of the fire season - came as residents and fire crews in the hamlet of Licola braced themselves for the approaching fire front.

Firefighters plan to take advantage of cooler weather conditions with low winds in their attempts to quell the fire.

The State Control Centre re-issued a "watch and act" alert at 6.40am on Saturday morning telling residents that the fire front was heading towards Mount Useful and the nearby springs, close to Licola.

Strike fire fighting teams are defending the towns of Licola and Heyfield, as the fire heads in a north-east direction through the southern end of the Alpine National Park.

The fire is believed to be burning in 48,000 hectares and and is creating spot fires more than one kilometres away.

A State Control Centre spokeswoman said the fire fighters were hoping to take advantage of predicted lower temperatures and moderate winds to fight the fire.

"The conditions are relatively benign but it is fair to say that the fire itself is creating its own heat," she said.

"The fire has been pretty erratic and unpredictable and it still has a potential to run up the Macalister Valley, nearby to Lecola," she said.

Licola has about 20 fire fighters in the town and access through the main road is cut. Between 10 and 15 residents have stayed behind to defend the town.

Licola General Store owner Mary Winter said there was less smoke than Friday, but the fate of the town would depend on weather.

"We've been through fires before in 2006 and we've implemented the same precautions this time. We just hope they work," Ms Winter said.

At least five houses were destroyed by the bushfire, which started near Aberfeldy on Thursday night.

Heyfield incident controller Bill Johnstone said the fire could continue for days or even weeks.

''We're still experiencing some dynamic fire behaviour. The conditions are deteriorating,'' Mr Johnstone said.

''It's a very dangerous environment we're experiencing … it's probably as bad as it can get.''

Chopper 'Elvis' out of action again

IN the middle of Victoria's fire fighting season, water bombing helicopter 'Elvis' is out of action for the second time in one week.

The Erickson Aircrane 'Elvis' (Helitak 341) will be unable to fight fires for at least three days after it suffered hydraulic problems while working in and round Aberfeldy on Friday.

The State Control Centre has moved sister helicopter Erickson Aircrane 'Gypsy Lady' (Helitack 342) to Essendon Airport ready to replace 'Elvis'.

In a statement, the Victorian control centre said the hydraulic problems were unrelated to the mechanical problems Elvis had earlier this week.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said there are 14 aircraft currently fighting the Gippsland fires.

“The slightly cooler conditions across the state, and short flight times, have allowed us to place additional resources on stand-by for for the Gippsland fires," Mr Lapsley said.

“We will monitor the situation, including lightning strikes that occurred in the north-east overnight, before determining where and when the additional resources will be deployed.”

Mr Lapsley listed the other aircraft involved in the fire to allay concerns about Elvis' grounding. These include one heavy, two medium and two light fire bombers have been joined by three fixed-wing fire bombers, five light air attack supervision-observation helicopters and one fixed-wing firespotter to fight the Gippsland fires.

There are 70 trucks and more than 270 personnel working the Gippsland fires from CFA and DSE.

“We thank the volunteers and career staff that are working hard in very hot, smokey and challenging conditions,” Mr Lapsley said.

Check the CFA for latest fire alerts: Country Fire Authority


Cooler conditions have helped downgrade warnings across the state as firefighters bolstered containment lines. 

Earlier on Saturday morning there were five watch and act alerts in place, including for the Warrumbungle fire near Coonabarabran, where 51 homes have been destroyed and 54,000 hectares burnt through.

On Friday, fires near Cessnock, Coonabarabran, Young and around Bega were causing extreme danger for residents and firefighters, as authorities confirmed two homes had been lost in the Bega area.

Last night the Cessnock Advertiser reported more than 100 firefighters were working in the area to protect properties, backburning from existing trails and roadways.

This morning the Young Witness reported a grass fire about 5 kilometres south-west of Boorowa had been classified as controlled. It reported the eastern side of the fire, closest to Boorowa, has been contained and there was no immediate threat to the township of Boorowa however authorities warned residents to monitor conditions.

Firefighters have been working to establish containment lines as two homes and two sheds have been destroyed in the 180 hectare bush fire is burning in the area around Millingandi.

The Commissioner of the Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons, said dry winds and hotter than expected temperatures played havoc with firefighters across the state. ''This has made for very difficult conditions and there are a lot of very active fires; there has not been the cloud cover we expected,'' he said.

Check the RFS for latest fire alerts: NSW Rural Fire Service


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