‘Don’t blame us, blame freak wind’: CFA

Click through the above photos for startling pictures of the fire bearing down on Harrietville last week.

FIRE UPDATE: Hotham threat downgraded as weather gods smile on firefighters

FIREFIGHTERS have scotched claims they were too slow off the mark in fighting the Harrietville fire.

Angry residents in the upper Ovens Valley told The Border Mail last week not enough resources were thrown at the fire early on Tuesday, only hours before it jumped containment lines — threatening the town and Mount Hotham alpine resort for the rest of the week.

The fire was still burning yesterday in steep, inaccessible terrain surrounding Harrietville.

But, North East land and fire manager for the Sustainability Department Shaun Lawlor, said freak wind rather than a lack of firefighters had allowed the fire to jump containment lines.

The department said the fire was considered contained on the Tuesday morning after a lightning strike on the Monday afternoon.

“The fire was reported to DSE by the Mount Porepunkah Fire Tower at 2.27pm on Monday, January 21,” Mr Lawlor said.

“The first crew was sent about 3pm. Local CFA resources were also dispatched.

“Crews remained on the fire ground until 9.30pm on Monday, working on fire suppression and control lines with the support of the water-bombing aircraft until last light.

“Crews departed the fire ground at dark when it was no longer safe to work because of the steep rocky terrain, presence of un-marked mine shafts, and hazardous fire-affected trees.

“The fire was considered contained.

“Crews resumed work about 7.30am on Tuesday with aircraft also re-commencing operations to assist ground crews. The fire remained contained at this time.

“At about 2pm, strong winds funnelling up the valley blew embers and flames across the containment lines into heavy fuels.

“It quickly intensified beyond the capacity of ground crews and aircraft.”

The Border Mail understands a second water bombing helicopter was being refuelled when the wind hit.

Mr Lawlor also denied there would be any specific investigation into the fire outbreak that Tuesday afternoon.

“DSE has a defined process for debriefing fire incidents at the local, regional and state level,” he said.

DSE has also denied a fire truck “got lost on the way to the fire” and another broke down on Tuesday morning.

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