Victorian summer brings heat, fires, floods and storms - Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board

Victorian summer brings heat, fires, floods and storms

Victorian emergency management agencies have been kept busy with heat, fires, floods and storms this summer.


Since November, there have been around 4250 grass and bushfires and almost 8650 storm and flood requests for assistance responded to by agencies including MFB, CFA, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and SES.

Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said water safety has also been a key issue with 26 drownings in Victorian waterways, including swimming pools, since July. During this same period, beach lifesavers and lifeguards have undertaken 481 rescues.

“Summer is not just about fire anymore, it’s about summer safety and working as one emergency management sector," he said.

“We have seen that work well this season and although we haven’t been as busy with fire compared to last summer, we have been challenged with some unstable weather that has brought with it severe storms, some flash flooding and a heatwave in early January where Heat Health Alerts were issued for most parts of the state."

In November, an updated Southern Australia Seasonal Bushfire Outlook released by the Bushfire Natural Hazards CRC forecast that Victoria would face a potentially major fire season.

Mr Lapsley said this followed the driest spring for at least 20 years in many parts of Victoria.

“As early as November we were seeing extremely dry conditions in the west, central and northern parts of the state. This made for a busy start to the summer when in mid-December lightning ignited more than 350 fires," he said.

This resulted in significant fires in the north east of Victoria, including at Creightons Creek near Euroa, Lake Rowan – Warbys near Wangaratta, Stewarton near Benalla and in central Victoria at Pastoria East. Combined, the fires burnt through almost 15,000 hectares.

“Although small in size, there was also a fire at West Wodonga that burnt extremely close to homes and the town," Mr Lapsley said.

“It was a great save by ground crews who were supported by aircraft, including the Large Air Tankers which attended this fire as their first deployment in Victoria.

“Aircraft have played a critical role in first attack this summer. The fleet of 46 has flown around 4000 hours this season and firebombers have dropped more than nine million litres of foam, water and retardant."

Mr Lapsley said this included aircraft deployments to South Australia when bushfires threatened the Adelaide Hills in January, to Western Australia who were hit by fires south of Perth during February and just in the past two days to Tasmania where a bushfire is currently burning in the state’s north.

“As fire conditions eased in Victoria, we were able to send our Large Air Tankers interstate, as well as 250 personnel to South Australia and 185 personnel to Western Australia," Mr Lapsley said.

“In Victoria, we are fortunate to have a network of experienced career and volunteer firefighters, as well as people operating in specialist roles and we are pleased we were able to provide this experience and resourcing to our interstate counterparts when it was needed most.

“I would like to thank those who gave up their time to assist in both South Australia and Western Australia and also emergency services personnel who have worked hard to protect Victoria."

Across two days in early January when Victoria experienced severe to extreme fire danger, NSW also provided critical support to Victoria in the way of more than 220 personnel and seven aircraft.

During this period from 2-3 January 2015, the state experienced high temperatures, damaging winds, severe thunderstorms and significant fires in the west at Moyston, Edenhope, in the Little Desert and at Hastings. More than 26,000 hectares was burnt.

While fortunately there have been no deaths as the result of these fires, Mr Lapsley said several firefighters had suffered minor injuries and there has been extensive loss and damage, particularly for farmers and agricultural businesses.

In the Hume region, Moyston, Hastings and Edenhope fires, this has included more than 8500 sheep and cattle, up to 1000 kilometres of fencing, thousands of hectares of pastoral land and crops and up to 500 ton of hay. There have been seven houses destroyed, more than 270 properties damaged and the loss of hay sheds and out-buildings.

“Relief and recovery in the affected communities has been effective and well managed and this is a credit to local government and the relief and recovery agencies," Mr Lapsley said.

During the 2014/15 summer, more than 2200 warnings were issued and around 57,100 voice calls and text messages were sent using the national telephone alerting system, Emergency Alert. Communities were also making good use of emergency information channels with the FireReady app registering 237,000 new devices and bringing the total number of app registrations to 850,000. Over 14,300 people called the Victorian Bushfire Information Line (VBIL) between November and February.

While summer is officially over, fire mitigation efforts will continue as emergency services take advantage of the milder weather to undertake planned burning.

Mr Lapsley said although the weather is cooling down, fires can still happen in March and Victorians need to stay informed and prepared.

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