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Vic set for season’s biggest bushfire test

Victorian authorities are bracing for the biggest bushfire test of what has so far been a subdued season, with total fire bans declared across the state.

Temperatures are forecast to soar into the 40s in Victoria’s northwest on Monday and hit the high 30s elsewhere, including 39C in Melbourne.

The lingering heatwave, combined with a forecast afternoon wind change, has elevated the fire danger to severe in the Mallee, Wimmera, Northern Country, North East and North Central, and to very high in East Gippsland.

All six districts will be subject to a total fire ban, outlawing open-air fires from midnight.

An active La Nina weather pattern has made for a largely soggy summer in Victoria, but Monday’s forecast has fire crews on high alert.

“The next 24 hours we’ll see the most significant fire risk posed to this state so far this season,” Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan told reporters on Sunday.

Forest Fire Management Victoria’s Chris Hardman said a record number of residents were exploring the state after spending most of 2020 stuck in lockdown.

However, he said many had little experience in bushland environments and needed to be wary not to inadvertently spark a blaze.

“It’s really important that if you’re a visitor to these areas you do not put people at risk by behaving in an inappropriate way,” he said.

“Ten per cent of all of our bushfires come from unattended campfires. Don’t think just because it’s a small fire by your campsite, it’s OK. It’s not OK.”

There were no active blazes in Victoria as of Sunday evening, but authorities insist they are ready to respond should any arise.

Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said 64 firefighting aircraft were on standby on Sunday and a similar number would be available on Monday.

The forecast afternoon wind change on Monday will be the most dangerous period for fires but will also carry cooler air, rapidly dropping temperatures by 10 to 15C and aiding fire crews’ efforts on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Mother Nature has been kind to us, we don’t have a third hot day,” Mr Hardman said.

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