File size must be less than 2Mb
You must have online publishing permission or full ownership of this image
File types (jpg, png, gif)
12 February 2024
Emergency services are anticipating the worst fire risk day for the past five years in the Wimmera tomorrow, Tuesday.
Fire authorities has declared a Total Fire Ban, TFB, with catastrophic weather conditions forecast in the Wimmera.
A TFB has also been declared for the Mallee, Northern Country, Central, South West and North Central fire weather districts.
High temperatures, mixed with high winds and thunderstorms in the afternoon have caused authorities to warn people in the Wimmera to be on high alert.
Article continues below
Communities most at risk are Rainbow, Warracknabeal, Minyip, Rupanyup and Murtoa.
Victorian emergency management commissioner Rick Nugent said the catastrophic rating for the Wimmera was the first since 2019.
Mr Nugent said extensive planning and preparation been undertaken by all agencies, with aircraft to be placed in high-risk areas.
He asked Wimmera communities to prepare for a fire by activating their fire plans, leaving high-risk areas early, avoid travel and to stay informed.
Schools and kinders to close
About 60 schools, kinders and childcare centres across the Wimmera are set to close tomorrow.
The department has been advised of the following school closures:
Apsley Primary School
Concongella Primary School
Dimboola Memorial Secondary College
Goroke P-12 College
Great Western Primary School
Halls Gap Primary School
Holy Trinity Lutheran College
Horsham College - McKenzie Creek campus
Horsham Primary School, 298 Campus
Horsham Primary School, Rassmussen Road Campus
Horsham West and Haven Primary School, Haven Campus
Horsham West and Haven Primary School, Horsham West Campus
Jeparit Primary School
Marnoo Primary School
Minyip Primary School
Natimuk Primary School
Navarre Primary School
Nhill Lutheran School
Our Lady Help of Christians School, Murtoa
Rupanyup Primary School
St Arnaud Primary School
St Arnaud Secondary College
St Malachy's School, Edenhope
St Mary's School, Warracknabeal
St Patrick's School, Nhill
St Patrick's School, St Arnaud
St Patrick's School, Stawell
St Peter's Lutheran School
Stawell Secondary College
Stawell West Primary School
Warracknabeal Primary School
Warracknabeal Secondary College
Warracknabeal Special Developmental School
Early childhood services:
Big Childcare - Apsley PS OSHC
Big Childcare - St Arnaud PS OSHC
Concongella Primary School Council OSHC
Edenhope Early Childhood Service
Marrang Kindergarten & Early Learning Centre
Murtoa College OSHC
Nhill Early Learning Centre
St Arnaud Early Learning Centre
Warracknabeal 3 year old program
Warracknabeal 3 year old program, Wheatlands District Church
Warracknabeal Memorial Kindergarten
Warracknabeal Neighbourhood House Take a Break Child Care Centre
Warracknabeal Uniting Early Learning
There will also be no country buses operating tomorrow.
A Department of Education spokesperson said the schools were closing on the advice of Emergency Management Victoria.
"Schools and early childhood education and care services considered to be at risk in the event of a bushfire will be closed tomorrow,” the spokesperson said.
“Around 60 schools and early childhood education and care services in the district will be closed and some surrounding schools in the north-west area may be relocated. All impacted schools and services have been notified and families are being advised.
“The health and safety of our children, school students and staff is always our top priority, and we will continue to work closely with emergency services as the situation develops.”
Bureau of Meteorology Victorian emergency services meteorologist Kevin Parkyn said dry grass was contributing to the high fire danger.
“I’ve been in this game for a number of years and it looks like these conditions are probably the worst I will have seen since the 2019-20 summer,” he said.
“That summer of course was exceptionally dry ... and we’re in a bit of a different situation – we’ve had recent rainfall in the months, but conditions have changed in the last few weeks, we’ve had little if any rain across much of the state, and that has certainly dried out grass lands.”
Mr Parkyn said temperatures have been in the mid to high 30s in western Victoria in the past week.
“It’s all about the winds tomorrow – what we’re expecting tomorrow is widespread north to north-westerly winds of 40 to as much of 50-kilometre winds with gusts potentially in the 60 to 80-kilometre an hour zone, so an incredibly windy day,” he said.
Mr Parkyn said thunderstorms, some forecast to be severe, developing in the afternoon would also contribute to the fire risk.
“The wind change that we’re expecting tomorrow potentially the strongest I have seen for some years as it sweeps across the south-west in the late morning.
“We’re expecting it to move into the Wimmera and the Mallee during the afternoon.”
CFA chief officer Jason Heffernan said it was the first time catastrophic conditions had been declared in Victoria since the new Australian fire danger rating system was introduced.
“Grass fires can be just as deadly ... they move incredibly fast – they can jump roads with ease,” he said.
Mr Heffernan said communities most at risk were Rainbow, Warracknabeal, Minyip, Rupanyup and Murtoa.
“You need to put in your bushfire survival plan now,” he said.
“If you’re plan is to leave early – leave tonight, or very early tomorrow morning.
“Otherwise you are to make sure you have everything you need to deal with a fire because information will be variable – but you may not receive a warning in time, such is the nature of how fast fires can occur.”
Forest Fire Management Victoria chief fire officer Chris Hardman said fires could be uncontrollable, fast-moving and sometimes impossible for emergency services to suppress.
Parks to close
Mr Hardman said it was important people did not visit parks and forests in the Wimmera, including Grampians National Park, Little Desert National Park, Wail State Forest, Grange State Park, Mt Arapiles State Park, and other public land areas.
“If you are already in those parks, you need to leave tonight,” he said.
“If fires start in those areas, they can quickly become uncontrollable and your life could be in danger.”
People are reminded to prepare for power outages; check on neighbours; avoid unnecessary travel; check for road closures and detours; and pack an overnight bag with essential supplies including provisions for pets and animals.
Authorities advise people to not plan to stay and defend their home on catastrophic fire danger days. Homes are not designed or constructed to withstand fire in the conditions – even the best prepared homes will not be safe, and people could lose their life or be seriously injured.