27 Dec 2015

Victoria residents head home after bush fires

8:07 pm on 27 December 2015

Residents of areas hit by bushfire in Australia's Victoria state have begun returning home after evacuation orders were lifted, officials say.

Residents of the evacuated towns of Wye River and Separation Creek at a Relief Centre in Apollo Bay.

Residents of the evacuated towns of Wye River and Separation Creek at a Relief Centre in Apollo Bay. Photo: AAP

Locals of Wye River and Separation Creek - the worst-affected towns - were bussed in to survey their properties.

The Christmas Day bushfire destroyed 116 homes, with nearly one in three houses in Wye River now unliveable.

For one local, her home had a narrow escape.

"One of the tanks has melted but it's burnt right up to the back deck and to the side and it's been saved," she said.

"The CFA and the firies have done an amazing job - without them we would have lost our houses."

A change to cooler weather and rain has greatly reduced the threat, but some emergency warnings remain in place.

Country Fire Authority volunteer fire-fighters take a break while fighting fires which flared in a scenic area along Victoria's Great Ocean Road on Christmas Day, destroying dozens of houses.

Country Fire Authority volunteer fire-fighters take a break while fighting fires which flared in a scenic area along Victoria's Great Ocean Road on Christmas Day, destroying dozens of houses. Photo: AFP

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the damage was "significant". No injuries have been reported.

Work was now under way to assess damage to roads, power and water lines and to the environment, he said.

"The other issue today of course is smoke and what impact that will have in terms of those who've got underlying conditions," Mr Andrews said.

Hundreds of firefighters have been battling the blaze in the two towns as well as Lorne - popular holiday spots along the famous Great Ocean Road.

On Friday, some 1,600 residents and tourists were evacuated from Lorne amid fears that a wind change would push the fire towards the town, but were allowed to return on Saturday.

However, many of those forced to leave their homes had to spend Christmas night in hastily-arranged shelters.

Smoke rises from a fast-moving bushfire near the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.

Smoke rises from a fast-moving bushfire near the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Photo: AAP

Colac-Otway shire mayor Frank Buchanan said the road to recovery would be difficult.

"It was a traumatic time. Now reality is settling in," he said.

"We have 120-odd homes destroyed and a lot of people homeless, burnt their primary residences, which is a real concern for us.

"Their welfare is our first concern. They will be given as much support as we can give them and financial support beyond that. It is devastating."

The blaze began with a lightning strike on 19 December and has been fanned by strong winds and intense heat in recent days, burning across 2,200 hectares (5,437 acres) so far.

Victoria is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world.

Many bushfires are started by lightning strikes, while others are sparked accidentally by campers or discarded cigarettes.

Some are the work of arsonists.

In 2009, more than 170 people died in Victoria during Australia's worst ever bushfire disaster.

- BBC / ABC

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