Victorian fires: homes lost at Scotsburn after fires tear through state

Up to 10 houses may have been lost at Scotsburn, near Ballarat, as raging fires continue to move across the state with "wind and fire activity" increasing in the early hours of Sunday morning. 

The full extent of the damage of fires that tore through Victoria on Saturday, claiming several homes, is starting to emerge.

Homes, sheds and fences sit in a twisted mess at Scotsburn, surrounded by blackened earth,  where a grassfire burnt through 3000 hectares.

Incident controller Graham Lay said crews managed the fire well overnight, despite a couple of breakout blazes, including one in a pine plantation.

"We did pretty well," said Lay, "We've got 75 per cent of the fire within control lines, but we're far from out of the woods."

Lay said that 14 buildings have been razed so far, but it is not yet known how many are homes and how many are sheds. An asset assessment team are confirming the losses on the fire ground right now. 

The fire, which is now around 3000 hectares, took its initial run on a northerly wind on Saturday, but zig-zagged on frequent wind changes. Lay said the biggest remaining areas of concern were "pressure points" in Grenville, and in particular south of Scotsburn.

Teams there are working hard to stop the fire moving any farther south. Should it break containment lines there, the expected cool change on Sunday early afternoon would push the front to the east, towards the township of Elaine.

The cool change moving through the state is expected to reach Melbourne around 1pm to 2pm today. The maximum temperature is expected to be 39 degrees Celcius.

A State Control Centre spokeswoman said they were unconfirmed reports of several houses being lost in the blaze in Scotsburn. 

"Fire authorities are aware of some reports of house losses but are unable to confirm until assessment teams go in today," she said.

Overnight fire fighters slowed the spread of the Scotsburn fire and strengthed containment lines on the southern edge. 

"Firefighters worked through the night to slow the spread of the fire, it has picked up a little bit this morning and crossed another road," she said. 

"Wind and fire activity increased in the early hours of Sunday, the fire has crossed Sands Road and is moving in the direction of the township of Grenville and Mt Mercer.

"There are additional crews coming into strengthen the firefight and daylight will allow the return of aircraft."

A State Control Centre spokesman said overnight firefighters slowed the spread of the Scotsburn fire and strengthened containment lines on the southern edge.

"The fire crossed the midland highway," he said.

"Eleven aircrafts responded, that included 50 trucks and a water-bombing helicopter. The cause of the fire is still being investigated by the police and CFA." 

He said on Saturday firefighters attended  380 incidents that included 100 grassfires in Victoria.

"100 calls were made to the SES for assistance," he said.

Rapid assessment teams from the Country Fire Authority have set out to determine exactly how many homes have been lost at Scotsburn beneath  baked and buckled tin roofs.

A cool change is forecast for Sunday, although it is not clear when it will arrive, or how it will affect the fire fronts.

Residents endured a nervous Saturday night, as fires continued to rage across Victoria following a day of record-breaking heat.

As the temperature soared above 40 degrees across the state, more than 300 fires broke out on Saturday.

While a burst of rain slowed the progress of the Scotsburn blaze on Saturday afternoon, it was one of a number that were still burning at 10pm as firefighters braced for a night of strong, changeable winds and continued heat. 

At least one fire was allegedly deliberately lit, with a 34-year-old homeless man charged with reckless conduct endangering life, reckless conduct endangering serious injury and committing an indictable offence while on bail in relation to a fire at Epping on Melbourne's northern outskirts.

He was remanded to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on Sunday.

More than 50 fire crews and four air tankers — including two from New South Wales — were battling the Scotsburn blaze on Saturday night, while watch-and-act alerts were still in force for fires near Wandin and Marysville.

As the heat built on Saturday, so too did thunderstorms, that caused blackouts and generated dangerous dry lightning. 

The worst affected storm area was Melbourne's west, where more than 9000 residents lost power due to cable faults and lightning strikes. 

There was little reprieve expected overnight, with the temperature not expected to dip below 30 degrees before midnight, the threat of more dry lightning from the storms and a forecast wind change.

Earlier in the day, firefighters from three Country Fire Authority trucks survived two separate "burnovers" near Scotsburn. The officers were forced to retreat to their trucks as they became trapped by a fast-moving section of fire.

The firefighters turned on their trucks' sprinkler systems and pulled down their protective heat shutters.

"They enacted their safety procedures that they're trained for. They had a successful outcome and they went straight back out on the fire ground," a CFA spokeswoman said.

Hundreds of firefighters were on the ground during the day, while more more than 50 aircraft – including Firebirds and Helitacks – attacked the blazes from above. 

By 3.30pm on Saturday, emergency services had received more than 400 calls.

Among the blazes early in the day were two large fires in the outer reaches of Melbourne – in Wandin North and Epping. 

Wandin North resident Geoff Riddle was at home when his view of the Yarra Ranges was suddenly obscured by billowing smoke. 

Mr Riddle believed the fire started less than a kilometre or two from his house and four-hectare horse property in Cormilio Drive. 

He enacted his fire plan, alerted his wife and rushed to move horses off the property. 

As he moved one of the horses from a bottom paddock, it became clear that his property was under serious threat.

"I think the main thing is you really don't understand what goes on until you experience it," he said after the extreme danger had passed, and as a team of firefighters doused burning and blackened trees just over his boundary fence.

"It's pretty daunting when you've got that wall of flames coming at your house. And you've got all your animals and your property. And everything's there, and everything is in jeopardy, so it's a bit of a worry."

Authorities announced an emergency warning for Wandin North – a town of about 3000 people – just a few kilometres away from the blaze.

Shortly after, residents on the Warburton Highway in Wandin North could be seen hosing down rooftops.

Resident Matt Horton said embers more than 10 centimetres long landed on his property.

Mr Horton, a plumber, attached a rooftop sprinkler system to his house shortly after Black Saturday in 2009. The sprinklers were used on Saturday for the first time to protect against a bushfire, delivering a constant spray of water over the roof.

"Mate, it's the first time I've turned them on for a fire. To be honest, hopefully it's the last," he said.

Mr Horton said many residents left town when the fire started. "It was like a ghost town, everyone cleared out," he said. 

The emergency warnings were downgraded and the fire was contained on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, 20 people were taken to hospital with heat-related conditions. 

Paramedics were called to 50 heat-related cases throughout the day, as the temperature hit 41.2degrees in Melbourne at 3.20pm. The state's highest temperatures were not far from Melbourne, with 45.1 degrees recorded at Avalon shortly after 3pm.

Despite the heat, four children had to be rescued from locked cars, frustrating authorities who had spent the week warning parents of the dangers.

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