Wimmera fire crews prepare for severe fire danger

FIRE crews are preparing for another weekend of severe fire danger across the Wimmera.

Forecasters have issued a very high fire danger warning for the Wimmera for Sunday. 

Maximum predicted temperatures are 39 on Friday, 42 on Saturday and 30 on Sunday, with warm overnight lows and wind gusts of up to 55kmh as a cool change approaches on Sunday.

Wimmera fire agencies have been preparing for the conditions all week.

Horsham incident controller Jon Rofe said the Department of Environment and Primary Industries had been trying to rest crews in preparation for the severe weather forecast.

“Department and Parks Victoria staff have been working very hard, for an extended period, in trying conditions,” he said.

Efforts to suppress the 55,100-hectare Grampians fire – which ignited during a similar heatwave in mid-January – were continuing. 

“We’ve still got about 75 fire-fighters on the fire ground at the moment, which are being assisted by aircraft as required,” he said.

Country Fire Authority District 16 operations manager Chris Eagle said many of his volunteers were fatigued.

“We have about 3000 volunteers in District 16, including operational and non-operational people,” he said.

“A huge number of them have been active in the past six weeks.

“It’s got to a point where many have said they need to go back to work, or have a break.”

“We have about 3000 volunteers in District 16. A huge number of them have been active in the past six weeks. It’s got to a point where many have said they need to go back to work, or have a break.” - Country Fire Authority District 16 operations manager Chris Eagle

He said fire-fighters from outside the region had since pitched in to give District 16 fire-fighters a rest.

District 16 members were preparing for the weekend’s weather when the Mail-Times called on Thursday.

“We haven’t had any dramas crewing any of our trucks so far,” Mr Eagle said.

“Everyone has put in a fair bit of planning to make sure we’ve got resources available, if we need them.

“Some brigades need extra volunteers; we’re always after extra volunteers.”

Country Fire Authority District 17 operations officer Trevor Ebbels said the district had about half its usual volunteer capacity between New Year’s Day and February 1, with members away on holiday.

“Now we’re pretty much back to full capacity,” he said.

“We have 86 brigades, all available for this weekend.”

Incident control centres and incident management teams in Districts 16 and 17 will also be fully staffed.

“People need to be assured we will do everything appropriate to ensure their communities are protected,” Mr Ebbels said.

On Wednesday, the CFA and State Emergency Service came under fire from Auditor-General John Doyle.

His audit of emergency service volunteer management concluded both agencies had serious issues with identifying and addressing volunteer workforce capacity and requirements.

“Neither agency has a sound understanding of the workforce needed to fulfil operational requirements,” Mr Doyle said.

“The CFA does not know how many volunteers it needs, and the SES does not accurately know how many it has.

Both the CFA and SES have accepted the report and agreed to implement a list of recommendations.

The report’s release coincided with the fifth anniversary of Black Saturday.

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