Dry lightning caused by violent thunderstorms may create a new bushfire threat in Victoria.
The storms, which have caused wind gusts between 65km/h and 90km/h across the state, are coming ahead of a strong cool change expected to arrive in Melbourne late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Firefighters contained dozens of grass fires and bushfires across Victoria amid sweltering conditions and an extreme fire danger.
Residents in the tiny South Gippsland towns of The Gurdies and St Helier were urged to flee from a fast-moving grass fire late Wednesday afternoon, with the CFA issuing an emergency warning that has since been downgraded.
But as the storms pass, the worst may not be over, with gusty northerly winds persisting ahead of the blustery cool change.
“It’s not as if it’s all over at dinner time tonight. It’s going to be a fire danger for many hours,” Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley told reporters.
State Control Centre spokesman Gerard Scholten said there had been more than 1100 lightning strikes by 7pm as the severe thunderstorms crossed Victoria.
“While it (the storms) has brought cooler conditions to us (in Melbourne) it might leave (firefighters) with a significant new fire threat, particularly in rugged areas in northeastern Victoria,” he told AAP.
Mr Scholten said aircraft are already scanning for new hot spots and fires, and will continue patrolling on Thursday.
A total fire ban is in effect until midnight in eight of Victoria’s nine fire districts.
Meanwhile, the Victorian government has been accused of covering up the origins of the devastating Wye River-Jamieson Track fire, which destroyed 116 homes on Christmas Day and is still out of control in rugged forest country in the Otway Ranges.
So far, the origin of the fire was said to have been a December 19 lightning strike near Wye River.
But The Age newspaper reports that leaked confidential government files say officials ordered a controlled burn three days after the strike to put out the half-hectare fire that remained despite warnings there may be catastrophic consequences.
In response, the government has promised a thorough investigation by the state’s emergency management inspector-general.
“This fire was in deep terrain and could not be extinguished. A decision was made by the incident controller to conduct a burn-out when conditions were milder and before that every option to control the fire was taken before the burn-out decision was made,” a government spokeswoman said.
DELWP has been held responsible for a bushfire, sparked by a DELWP controlled burn in state forest, that destroyed four homes and burned 3000 hectares near Lancefield in early October.