Long, hard battle to stop blaze

THE fire that threatened Mount Hotham on Thursday night is unlikely to be contained for weeks.

And the Great Alpine Road would remain closed for some time with fire crews using it as their fallback line during back-burning operations that start tomorrow.

The threat of dead mountain ash, left from the 2006-07 fires, falling was considered an additional risk to the operation.

Firefighters yesterday took a breather as drizzling rain suppressed the blaze.

The weather also grounded helicopters and planes that were expected to assess the extent of the fire that, before Thursday afternoon, had burnt more than 4000 hectares and was almost under control.

But Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Darren Skelton said containment work would now be a race against time ahead of a return to hot and windy conditions next week.

He said backburning could start late this afternoon but, more likely, tomorrow.

“We have had some rain but the thinking at the moment is that it is not enough to put it out,” he said.

“The run on Thursday broke existing containment lines and now the next likely containment lines will require a substantial amount of backburning.

“The crews could start the work on Saturday afternoon or Sunday and are likely to use the Great Alpine Road.

“That will bring with it the danger of those falling trees.

“The dead alpine ash on the roadside that was burnt in 2007 are already unstable and putting further fire in there just makes it more dangerous.”

Ken Harris, from the Red Robin gold mine in isolated country between Falls Creek and Mount Hotham, watched the fire race towards Mount Hotham on Thursday night.

He had buried trucks and machinery behind sheets of tin and dirt as the fire threatened to turn in his direction.

“It was tearing across the Bon Accord track and headed into the village when the wind just stopped,” he said.

“Instead of the forecast blustery southerly change there was nothing just dead calm.”