28 Dec 2015

More fire-hit Victoria residents return to area

12:55 pm on 28 December 2015

Residents of Victoria's fire-devastated Surf Coast will briefly return to the area today, as firefighters continue their battle to control the blaze that has destroyed 116 homes since Christmas Day.

Emergency services workers inspect fire damaged buildings at Separation Creek in the Otway Ranges south of Melbourne.

Emergency services workers inspect fire damaged buildings at Separation Creek in the Otway Ranges south of Melbourne. Photo: AAP / Julian Smith

Residents of Wye River and Separation Creek will be bussed back into the area today to have another look at the extent of damage, while Premier Daniel Andrews will also tour the affected area.

Power has been restored to key points in Wye River and roads are gradually reopening to allow emergency access, however, the battle to contain the fire is far from over.

Weather Bureau forecaster Chris Godfred said while temperatures would remain high, winds were expected to ease this week, offering a reprieve to firefighters.

Residents get first view of damage

Residents and media were yesterday given their first look at the charred landscape on both sides of the Great Ocean Road.

Andrew Allen's house was one of 98 destroyed at Wye River.

He said residents and homeowners had been rallying to support one another in the wake of the tragedy.

"It's a beautiful community and it's an emotional time but a lot of good comes out of it, there's a lot of bonding, that's really special to be part of."

Fellow resident Angus Greene's house was not destroyed in the blaze. He told the ABC it was strange to see all the damage.

"One house in particular, it's garage had been lost and the aluminium boat that was sitting under the garage was melted but the house itself was untouched.

"I can only imagine it was due to water bombing, so that was a very odd experience driving around seeing that."

Crews are pulling unsafe trees down, and the power will need to be reconnected before people can return.

Wye River fire "triumph of planning"

Emergency authorities are hoping people can head back to the towns in the first week of January.

"We want to get people in as soon as we can, but we also need to make sure we do it in a safe and considered matter," Country Fire Authority incident controller Peter West said.

"However, although temperatures will be similar to what they were on Christmas Day, at this point in time we aren't looking at the winds being quite as strong."

Fire crews are hoping to establish further containment lines before the return of hot weather at the end of the week.

Mr Andrews said the Wye River fire was a "triumph of planning" and the outcome could have been much worse.

"I think they'll be using this fire and this experience as a real case study that if you plan and if you prepare, and if you've got some very brave and courageous locals who came and supported them... this is a triumph in many respects that no-one lost their life," he told 774 ABC Melbourne.

He said once the area had been made safe, tourists should return to the Surf Coast area to help the local economy recover from the fire.

Mr Andrews said if people had good information about the fire it would soon be very safe to visit "a very beautiful part of the state".

"If you want to do something for the local area and you want to do something to help those who have been affected... then I hope that from early next week, that's our aim, you'll be able to do a day trip to Wye River, and that would be a great way of showing strong support and making a practical contribution to the community's recovery," the Premier said.

Fire could burn for months

Fires in the area are still burning out of control.

Residents in Kennett River, Grey River, Lorne and Allenvale have been told there is no immediate threat, but that the risk could increase with a change in weather conditions.

Victoria's Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the fire would probably burn for some time.

"The old forester that knows the place very well told me the other day that this won't be extinguished without extensive rain so that means we've got a fire that's got the potential to be an active fire for months," he said.

He said dangerous weather was forecast again later this week, and people in the area should pay extra close attention.

"This fire is not going to be put out in the next short period of time, it's got a lot of hot spots, it's got a large perimeter in it, it's in almost inaccessible country in the most part of the fire, it's in deep terrain, it's in a forest that hasn't been burnt for decades so it's very hot," he said.

"The risk of that is the next hot day, the next hot windy day - the fire will move. That's this week."

- ABC

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