A helicopter sucks up water from a small dam to drop on a
bushfire burning in the Grampians bushland. REUTERS/Country
The menacing red sky turned blue as the wind change came
and Halls Gap dodged a bullet.
In an instant the wind turned, changing the direction of an
advancing bushfire and pulling it up four kilometres shy of
the Victorian tourist town.
Rohan McDonald feared the fire would quickly be upon the
Grampians town as he sat on a dam wall watching the atomic
bomb-like smoke plume.
"All of a sudden, bang, the wind turned, the waves started
coming down the lake and what looked red all of a sudden
turned to blue sky," he told AAP.
"Quite amazing. It was a good relief."
Mr McDonald, the owner of the Halls Gap Lakeside Tourist
Park, was one of the few who stayed in the town.
With tourists evacuated, he did all he could to save the
park, putting dozens of sprinklers on the buildings before
moving to the relative safety of the dam's edge.
A few kilometres away, Halls Gap was a dark ghost town.
Halls Gap Hotel publican Matt Humphries left the town on
Friday after being told at a community meeting the situation
did not look good.
"It looked like it was getting worse and worse so we just
thought, 'let's get out of here' and hopefully things will be
right," he told AAP.
"As it turns out we were just pretty lucky."
Victoria's Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the
wind change came earlier than expected and saved the town.
"Halls Gap dodged a bullet," he said.
By early Sunday afternoon residents were welcomed back.
The ice creamery opened, a shop sold takeaway coffees and the
pub prepared for evening trade.
Mr Lapsley encouraged tourists to return to the town.
"If you are intending to go to Halls Gap, go there," he said.
"They need the support and we don't need to have everyone
scared of Halls Gap."
Ten homes were destroyed by the blaze and more than 51,800
hectares burnt, and Mr Lapsley said the number would
Across Victoria 35 fires are still listed as burning, with
130,000 hectares burnt.
In the Mallee firefighters have made significant progress on
several fires burning out of control in national park and
reserves, but it will be weeks before the fires are contained
"These three fires have now burnt through more than 65,000
hectares, so we are dealing with large areas that will take
several weeks to completely contain," Mildura incident
controller Damien Kerr said.
In far east Gippsland fires covering 3000 hectares continue
to burn, although the weather is now mild.
Two major roads that were closed - the Western Highway around
Stawell to Horsham and the Princes Highway in east Gippsland
- have reopened.