Fires break out as hot weather hits Victoria
A man has been arrested as three fires continue to burn amid scorching and windy conditions across Victoria.
One person is believed to be trapped and houses lost as an out-of-control grassfire rages near the town of Scotsburn, south of Ballarat.
The large grassfire is travelling in an easterly direction from Horsehill and Narmbool roads.
There are unconfirmed reports a woman is trapped in a home after an explosion. Seven News has reported that at least one house has been lost.
Firefighters at a fast moving grass fire in the Epping area in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Photo: David Crosling
Nearby, another out-of-control fire is burning close to the town of Elaine.
Residents have been advised it is too late to leave.
“The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately,” a State Emergency Control Centre spokesman said.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 19: Wandin resident Ricky Booth hoses down his friend roof to prevent ember attacks on December 19, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Fairfax Media) Photo: Darrian Traynor
“We haven’t confirmed the reports of houses lost.”
Helicopters are battling the blaze from above.
Heavy rain started falling at Scotsburn about 5.20pm, but despite the rain strong winds are continuing to buffet the area.
CFA firefighters at the Wandin North fire. Photo: Darrian Traynor
Large fires are also burning at Wandin North, a suburb in Melbourne’s east, Epping, on the outskirts of Melbourne’s north, and Wonthaggi South, in South Gippsland.
Firefighters managed to contain the fires at Epping and Wandin North by 2.30pm, and gained the upper hand at Wonthaggi a short time later.
A fourth fire is burning in open country near Meredith and is being fanned by strong winds.
Firefighters at Wandin Photo: Darrian Traynor
Suspected firebug arrested
Meanwhile, police are interviewing a 34-year-old homeless man, who was arrested in relation to the Epping fire shortly before 1pm.
The man was detained on Vearings Road, near where the fire started.
Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the suspected firebug was dobbed in by a member of the public.
He was not on the state’s firebug list, he said.
Firefighters have so far responded to about 300 hundred fires across the state.
Hundreds of firefighters are on the ground, while more more than 50 aircraft – including Firebirds and Helitacks – are attacking the blazes from above.
By 3.30pm, emergency services had received more than 400 calls.
The mercury hit 41.2 degrees in Melbourne at 3.20pm.
The temperature is not expected to fall below 30 degrees before midnight, possibly making it the hottest Melbourne night on record.
Fire crews are now wary of a line of thunderstorms, with winds of up to 100km/h, heading for Melbourne.
A severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for Melbourne, Western Port, the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. A general thunderstorm warning is in place for much of southern Victoria.
The storms were forecast to hit Geelong, Pakenham and Sorrento by 3.50pm and Lara, Queenscliff and Rosebud by 4.20 pm.
Unfortunately, the storms were not expected to deliver any decent rain that would help the firefighting effort, but were likely to deliver dangerous dry lightning.
“Storms are popping up all over the place,” Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Alin Baillie said.
“But the cloud base is very, very high, so any rain is evaporating before it hits the ground … and dry lightning is a possibility.”
Victorians have been urged to keep an eye out for smoke for about 10 or 15 minutes after a lightning strike.
The fires at Epping and Wandin North were brought under control about 2.30pm, with the emergency warnings for both areas downgraded.
A Watch and Act remains in place for Wandin North, while an Advice Alert has been issued for Epping.
Temperatures reached 42.6 degrees at Mildura and 42 degrees at Longerenong, Mortlake, Avalon and Geelong.
The five-hectare fire at Epping moved quickly from Harvest Home Road towards O’Hearns Road, where it jumped containment lines and approached Cooper Street.
It forced the closure of the Hume Freeway from Edgars Road, Epping, to Cooper Street, in Campbellfield.
Firefighters with five fire-fighting aircraft – two Firebirds and three Helitacks – and 20 tankers managed to stop the blaze with 20 fire vehicles and five aircraft at Cooper Street.
Crews will remain in the area overnight to ensure no embers reignite the fire.
The CFA said it was forced to put out nine bonfires in Victoria overnight despite a total fire ban in place for Victoria for Saturday and Sunday.
— Travis Carter (CFA) (@CFA_LTCarter)
December 18, 2015
Hume Freeway (M31) remains closed near Cooper Street, Epping. Traffic is being diverted off the freeway. pic.twitter.com/Z45T5splGM
— 7 News Melbourne (@7NewsMelbourne)
December 18, 2015
— Julian Price (@julianprice_)
December 18, 2015