Environment: UPDATE 3: Officials maintain state of disaster in eastern Victoria, Australia, as bushfire activity persists Jan. 7. Heed evacuation orders.

Severity: Warning Alert

The locations affected by this alert are:

  • Melbourne
  • Geelong
  • Albury

This alert began 06 Jan 2020 22:16 GMT and is scheduled to expire 12 Jan 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: Bushfires, fire danger threat
  • Location: Victoria, Australia (map)
  • Time Frame: Through at least Jan. 13
  • Impact: Evacuations; road closures; transport, utility, and business disruptions

Summary
Several bushfires are ongoing across Victoria, Australia, early Jan. 7. Forecast models indicate that the fire threat will continue over the coming days as hot, dry conditions persist across the state. Conditions are expected to worsen Jan. 9-11. In response, a state of disaster is ongoing in several local government areas of eastern Victoria as of early Jan. 7. The order is in effect for Alpine Shire, East Gippsland Shire, Mansfield Shire, Towong Shire, Wangaratta Rural Shire, and Welling Shire, as well as Mount Buller, Mount Hotham, and Mount Stirling. The state of disaster allows officials to evacuate townships, temporarily seize private property in firefighting efforts, and control movement in and out of an affected area, among other measures. The measure is set to expire late Jan. 7. As of early Jan. 7, there are over 30 fires burning across Victoria, including 13 at the watch and act alert level.

As of Jan. 7, a very high fire danger warning is in effect for Mallee, Wimmera, and Northern Country, while a high fire danger warning is in effect for North East, North Central, Central, and South West. Authorities will likely issue new alerts or update or rescind existing advisories as conditions change over the coming days.

Authorities have not provided an estimated containment date for the fires; hot and dry conditions and strong winds continue to hamper firefighting efforts, and additional fire growth is likely in the coming days. Fires could lead to further evacuations, closures of secondary and primary roads, and general ground travel and business disruptions.

Transport and Utilities
The bushfires have caused some road closures and localized transport disruptions in the affected areas. Authorities have closed Princes Highway between Orbost and the New South Wales border, as well as the Murray Valley Highway between Bullioh and Corryong. Additionally, the Omeo Highway remains closed between Omeo Valley Road and Mitta Mitta and the Monaro Highway is closed from the Cann River to the New South Wales border.

The status of roads could change over the coming hours and days; authorities could close routes within the bushfire complex and areas under evacuation and emergency warnings due to fire activity and the needs of response operations. Low visibility from smoke and possible ashfall could contribute to traffic delays and congestion in the region; some flight disruptions are possible at airports in the region, including Melbourne Airport (MEL). Power outages are likely in some areas.

Health
Smoke from fires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees, plants, and possibly building materials. Such smoke can hurt eyes, irritate the respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke may also worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Advice
Heed all evacuation orders. Seek updated information on road conditions if driving in the affected area; road closures and detours will cause increased congestion and delays. Individuals not under evacuation warnings should consider remaining inside well-ventilated, air-conditioned spaces to reduce exposure to smoke. Collect essential items - including identification and any important legal and travel documents - in a "go-bag" that can be easily accessed. Charge battery-powered devices in case of prolonged power outages.

Resources
Australian Bureau of Meteorology: www.bom.gov.au
Victoria Fire Authority: www.cfa.vic.gov.au
Vic Emergency: www.emergency.vic.gov.au/respond/
VicTraffic: www.traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au/
Melbourne Airport: www.melbourneairport.com.au/

Related Advice: Health Effects of Smoke Exposure
Related Advice: Personal safety before and during wildfires.