Firefighters are taking advantage of benign weather
conditions to try to contain a massive bushfire in Victoria's
east as police investigate whether it was deliberately lit.
The 53,000-hectare blaze has already killed one man who was
found in a burnt-out car and destroyed at least nine homes
since it began in the Baw Baw National Park on Thursday.
Nearby communities were no longer under immediate threat from
the blaze on Saturday as benign cooler conditions slowed the
fire down, allowing firefighters to work on containing the
Residents from Seaton and Glenmaggie were allowed to begin
returning home from 5pm (AEDT).
Police are appealing for people to come forward if they
witnessed anything suspicious in the hours before the blaze
started at Aberfeldy in Gippsland about 11.30am on Thursday.
They particularly want to speak to anyone who was camping in
the Donnelly Creek Road area on Thursday morning or local
Arson and Explosives Squad Detective Senior Sergeant Jeffrey
Maher said the witness appeal was part of an ongoing
investigation into the cause of the fire.
"We're not jumping to any conclusions," he told reporters on
"We're keeping an open mind about the situation at this stage
but we are really just making sure that we do it methodically
and thoroughly and investigate this particular incident."
State Control Centre spokesman Lee Miezis said firefighters
were undertaking backburning operations to control the blaze
ahead of worsening weather conditions expected on Thursday
and Friday, when temperatures are forecast to rise.
"(The weather) is helping us at the moment," he said.
Mr Miezis said the fire was still 15km from the town of
Licola where a team of firefighters remain with residents who
have chosen to stay and defend their homes.
The town is not under immediate threat but the
unpredictability of the blaze means residents there and in
other nearby communities need to remain on alert, possibly
for weeks, he said.
"It's burning into quite difficult terrain so it's difficult
to say but I don't think it's something we're going to make
safe within days," he said.
"I think we are talking weeks."
Mr Miezis said authorities were ensuring everyone had been
accounted for and asked people who left their homes to
register with the Red Cross.
There are 14 aircraft, 70 trucks and around 500 personnel
currently working on the Gippsland fires.
Meanwhile, a blaze that began in a pine plantation at
Kentbruck in the state's southwest two weeks ago continues to
burn but remains contained.