In the line of fire, but digging in as Harrietville fire makes its move

It was a beautiful, dangerous view from Justin Crawley's property outside Harrietville in north-east Victoria on Thursday night.

Flames licked up nearby hills as the silhouetted trees began to spit and tumble less than a hundred metres away over Stony Creek.

As some families opted to evacuate Harrietville on Thursday, Mr Crawley stayed to defend his 74-acre property, pausing for lasagne, salad and few beers with friends.

"It is hard to believe something so beautiful can be so dangerous," the 42-year-old camp co-ordinator said.

Mr Crawley has been here before. In 2003, fire tore through his property in less than 10 minutes, sparing his house thanks partly to fire breaks made using bulldozers.

"If you live in the bush you've got to expect bush fires", he said, praising the offers of help from neighbours and emergency services.

This year's fire began with a lightning strike on Monday afternoon and despite the quick arrival of the Country Fire Authority and firefighters rappelling in, it jumped containment lines that night as conditions worsened.

But Mr Crawley said proximity to the fire also brought clarity.

"I don't have to wait for a text from the CFA," he said. "I can talk to the DSE commander who will be standing next to me most of the day".

"But if you are a couple of kilometres down the road and someone's sending you messages saying 'get out', you go."

Five-man teams from the Department of Sustainability and Environment work up to 14-hour shifts defending Mr Crawley's property. And while hoses, a tractor-mounted spray unit and a pump from the nearby creek offer some protection, the greatest comfort is the roar of Malcolm the water bomber.

Acrid smoke greeted the DSE crew on Thursday as they descended into the freshly doused gully, not 10 metres from Mr Crawley's lawn.

"What's the grid?" a DSE worker called to his colleague waving a gadget over the simmering earth.

One minute and a quick radio exchange later Malcolm again thundered over the ridge and dumped his load with precision.

The water sounded like cellophane as it rippled through the gum leaves before settling on the black ground.

Malcolm backed away and a rainbow formed in its wake.

On Thursday night Harrietville residents were on guard against a wind change that could bring the fire closer to the town. Those that remain typically have a hose in the garden, an ear out for the radio, and a watchful eye on the surrounding hills.

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