Flowerdale fire crews work to contain blaze ahead of gusty change

Eighty firefighters have worked throughout the night to establish containment lines at a 900-hectare blaze that has been burning for four days north of Melbourne.

Wind is expected to pick up around midday, with gusts of up to 45km/h, but Country Fire Authority incident controller Rob van Dorsser said authorities were relatively confident they would be able to keep the fire within containment lines.

A month ago, Billy Price had over a metre of floodwater on his property. Now a 700-hectare grass fire is threatening property and stirring up traumatic memories.Credit:Jason South

Twenty trucks, four bulldozers and six aircraft are at the scene in case the control lines are breached.

“There is some fire activity in the middle … but that is being doused down by air crews,” van Dorsser said. “After today, the control lines will keep those areas pretty safe for us,” he said.

Farmer Bill Sangster apologised to his neighbours on Thursday for accidentally starting the blaze at his property near Spring Valley Road, Flowerdale, about 95 kilometres north of Melbourne.

The 71-year-old was fixing a fence on his Flowerdale property on Tuesday afternoon when sparks from his angle grinder set off the fire, which ripped through the area and destroyed cars, farm sheds and livestock.

“I take full responsibility for what happened, it was a bloody accident and I felt really bad,” he said. “And I apologise to every farmer around here, every person.”

Police questioned Sangster on Wednesday but later released him. Detectives confirmed on Friday the investigation was ongoing.

Warnings for local communities were downgraded to “watch and act” on Wednesday.

Containment lines were established on Thursday night, through bulldozing and back burning. The perimeter of these lines is about 23 kilometres.

The fire grew to 990 hectares overnight as a result of the back burning, which has been conducted predominantly on forested areas of private land.

Authorities said they were aiming to have the blaze contained by 8pm on Friday.

Once contained, the fire is expected to burn for weeks, or until the area experiences substantial rainfall. It will be monitored by fire crews during this time.

Authorities have issued a notification due to the large amount of smoke caused by the back burning. The Kinglake, Glenburn and Whittlesea areas may also smell or see smoke.

The town’s kindergarten remains closed as a result of the fire, while students from the local primary school are learning from home.

The wind will move in a north-westerly direction on Saturday morning, before a south-westerly cool change sweeps through the district, which will bring temperatures down into the high 20s.

Agriculture Victoria is working with landowners to assess the number of livestock lost as a result of the fire. It is unknown how many native animals have been killed.

A total fire ban has been issued for the Wimmera and south-west parts of the state, which are facing extreme fire danger.

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