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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 increase.
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 fully.
"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.