An out of control bushfire burning in the Tasmanian world heritage area has threatened six towns and sent thick smoke across Hobart and Port Arthur, as Victoria experienced a day of wild temperature changes that brought a dangerous bushfire close to east Gippsland towns.
The sky over Hobart turned a dramatic red on Friday morning as the smoke plume stretched for hundreds of kilometres across the state.
Current mood in Hobart town... pic.twitter.com/upnS4MIXEi— Brent Costelloe (@brentcostelloe) January 4, 2019
The fire in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers national park, in the state’s south-west, had burned more than 15,000 hectares by Friday evening.
The Tasmania Fire Service issued a watch and act alert on Friday morning for the small towns of Maydena and Tyenna, which are sandwiched between the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers national park and Mount Field national park. Later in the day emergency services also issued warnings for the towns of Bushy Park, Ellendale, Westerway and Fentonbury.
The ABC reported that 600 people had been evacuated from the Mount Field national park and a further 60 from a campsite.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service said a number of world heritage values were in the area of the fire, including the alpine plateau above Lake Rhona and areas of mixed forest and temperate rainforest.
Specific World Heritage values at risk from the fire include pencil pines, king billy pines, peat soils and cushion plants.
“PWS is working hard to contain the fire and minimise the damage to these fire-sensitive communities and the potential for damage to critical civil infrastructure,” the service said.
A total fire ban was also in place in the eastern half of Tasmania as temperatures hit the mid-30s early in the day. Hobart had reached 33C by noon and Bushy Park in the upper Derwent Valley reached 35C.
In Victoria, where temperatures soared into the 40s before dropping rapidly in the afternoon, 12 aircraft and 15 trucks worked on an out of control bushfire south of the Gippsland town of Rosedale.
On Friday evening warnings were upgraded for Stradbroke West, Willung and Willung South, where residents were told it was too late too leave their homes.
Earlier, Emergency Management Victoria also issued a watch and act warning for areas including Fulham, Longford, Kilmany, Kilmany South, Darriman, Giffard West, Gormandale, and Stradbroke.
Victoria’s emergency management commissioner, Andrew Crisp, said the area wasn’t heavily populated, but there were a number of small farms where people were at risk.
Residents of Ancona and Merton, north-east of Melbourne, were also warned to leave their properties because of an out-of-control grassfire at Strathbogie.
Temperatures in the state’s north-west reached the mid 40s, with Walpeup the hottest place in the state at 46C and Mildura at 44.9C. Avalon airport near Geelong recorded 44.3C, Sale in Gippsland had reached 43C and Melbourne 42.6C.
But temperatures plunged as much as 20C within an hour as a very rapid southerly change swept through later in the afternoon.
Updated #VicCoolChange forecast. It arrived in #Melbourne right on cue at 4:02pm & the temp has now dropped to just 21.2°C! Thunderstorms are starting to develop in the spotty convective cloud near and east of the change. https://t.co/R7A74b1hnV #VicWeather #MelbWeather pic.twitter.com/dXXt6sgORV— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) January 4, 2019
Earlier the emergency services minister, Lisa Neville, said it was “really, really disappointing” people had broken a statewide fire ban after firefighters responded to three campfires in rural Victoria by 8am on Friday.
“There are two strong messages: one a total fire ban, no campfires at all, but secondly, if you are leaving your camp area, absolutely make sure that campfire has been put out appropriately,” she said.