News & Media

Commissioner video update 24/2/2014

By: CFA News

Category: Community Safety, Operational Information

  12.41 PM 24 February, 2014

Location: General

Views: 2897

It's been yet another busy week across Victoria. We've seen the East Gippsland fire still burning, and we've certainly got a fire of significance in the Hazelwood mine at Morwell.

First though I'll just reflect on what the weather brings this week. We've got a milder week but  it's interesting to see that across the state on Tuesday the fire danger ratings will be Very High across all districts is the forecast.

With a south westerly change that moves through on Tuesday or Wednesday. Now with that we've got to be really careful that we just don't get into the slide along that it is just another day, I think Tuesday is a day that people should take note of. Because if we did have fires that start they would run and they could have the potential to do damage. We are not out of it, and we need to make sure even though we have had cooler conditions, that we don't forget that we can still have fires that will do damage. And the reason I say that is that last week we saw a number of fires run. Goongerah for example in East Gippsland, a new start within the area where the major fire is, was caused by lightening and in a very short period of time that fire developed that it was actually crowning through trees.And that tells us that conditions are still dry. And it means it doesn't have to have excessive temperatures or low relative humidities and high wind speeds, you don't need all three to get a fire to run. You may only need two of those and I think in Gippsland last week it was obviously wind and a very low relatively humidity.

So that is a bit of warning, a little bit of focus and we just need to stay attuned to that as one of the key issues for this week.

East Gippsland fires are still burning. People will say they've been burning for a long time, and they have. They're deep seated and there is significant resources still down there working on it and that will continue. We've revisited the East Gippsland strategy to make sure we get the extinguishment right of that fire and that is something that the East Gippsland or the Gippsland region are working on with the Incident Controller out of Orbost. Though what it means is across the state we need to offer up the support and resources to make that successful. And obviously there will be some ongoing issues in the recovery area that DHS and the local shire will lead. Some of that has already kicked in obviously but there will be more to be done.

And the big one that has been sitting now since the 9th of February is a fire in the Hazelwood mine. So the Hazelwood mine just south of Morwell. And that is causing us significant problems. That is it's a deep seated fire in coal, it's burning and putting up smoke over the township of Morwell and obviously causing significant issues.

In quick there are four ways to look at that fire. First is the fire strategy which is being run out of the Incident Control Centre at Traralgon, with an extension operational structure on the site itself. With the MFB, CFA, we've got Tasmania,we've got South Australian metropolitan fire services, we've got ACT, we've got Fire Rescue NSW backed into or stepped into a number of CFA stations to give capability  and huge resources from MFB and CFA. It's a big operation. 

The second part of it is actually the smoke. And it's interesting that for the community they see this fire as all about the smoke. In a bushfire you normally focus on the fire and the smoke is a subset. This fire however is all about the smoke for the community because they can't see the fire and the fire is not going to come and burn them, so the smoke will be the issue.

The smoke is one part of it. Carbon monoxide is the second part, and ash is the third part of the environmental issues. And obviously the EPA and the Chief Health Officer are working through that to make sure that every day the community is warned about what the smoke hazards are, any potential for carbon monoxide and what ash actually means in the town.

The third part is how to engage the community. There's been some fantastic work done about how to engage with the community. The latest plan for example has people travelling on the trains to get information, so people travelling in and out of Morwell in they're on trains they get information. That's only one example of how the extensive program of community engagement that has now been put in place. And there's buses in streets, there's corner meetings, there's information out of a respite location in Moe where Red cross, Council of Churches, DHS and La Trobe City and others are in attendance to give people information and have respite. And likewise Department of Health and Ambulance Victoria have got a health assessment centre in Morwell. All places where people can get information and get an understanding of what it means for them, and that is really good.

And the fourth part of the whole incident is all about the recovery side. It's about what happens after this goes away, what happens in the community, what happens in business, what happens in commerce in the town, what it means to Morwell and the district. That's quite significant in it's own right.

So it's a complex, long incident that is not going away. We think it is another 10-14 days to extinguish the fire, at best. And that relies on a lot of issues.

I will leave it there but you can see there is still lots happening in Victoria. La Trobe Valley is one of those that is a really key issue particularly for the Morwell community. So thank you.

Last Updated: 24 February 2014