Victoria’s fire season forecast has been upgraded from average to “potentially major”, with authorities warning residents to prepare for a “long, tough summer”.
The updated Southern Australian Seasonal Bushfire Outlook 2014-15 was released on Thursday based on predictions that the state’s summer will be drier and hotter, with less rainfall, than initially anticipated.
“Record October warmth across much of southern Australia has caused a rapid drawing of moisture from the landscape which is raising expectations of high fire danger in the south eastern states,” the outlook says.
“Rainfall since August has been below average to very much below average across most of Victoria.”
The outlook indicates that all parts of Victoria, except the Mallee and East Gippsland, can expect “above normal” fire potential.
The “potentially major” fire warning has been extended to areas including Wyperfeld National Park in the state’s far northwest, the Otway Range south-west of Melbourne and the foothills of South Gippsland, Latrobe Valley and Wilsons Promontory National Park in the state’s southeast.
The new outlook comes amid reports Victorian towns ravaged by bushfire are still without mobile phone coverage.
Minister for Bushfire Response Kim Wells told Fairfax Media on Thursday it was possible that someone who wished to report a fire in an isolated area may have to drive until they have mobile phone reception before contacting authorities.
However, Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley sought to assure residents authorities were well prepared for the fire season.
“We [have] held 17 multi-agency exercises and regional briefings across the state to prepare fire and emergency services and agencies in the lead up to the fire season,” Mr Lapsley said.
“We also have a record fleet of 46 [planes and helicopters] providing water bombing and air intelligence capabilities.”
Mr Lapsley also said fire and emergency services had improved their warning systems based on public feedback.
“This includes the addition of 85 new state-of-the-art automated Fire Danger Rating signs and emergency radio broadcasting for a further 35 Victorian towns,” he said.
Mr Lapsley said this fire season had started earlier than previous years’, but noted it was not unusual for grass fires to flare up in November.
“The message to all Victorians is not to wait and see – don’t hold off until the weather warms up or for a fire to start,” he said.
He also advised residents to familiarise themselves with the three different warnings: Advice, Watch and Act and Emergency Warnings.
“These may not be issued in any particular order and the first you could hear about an incident could be via an Emergency Warning,” Mr Lapsley said.
“You should never wait to receive an official warning before you leave. Bushfires can start quickly and threaten homes and lives within minutes. The safest option is to leave early on days of Severe, Extreme or Code Red fire danger.”
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