We know that climate change is driving hotter and drier summers, and making fire seasons worse, and this is already impacting on mountain environments. Last summer there were significant fires across eastern Victoria and the Victorian Mountains, as well as in Tasmania. While the largest one burned in the Bunyip state park about 65km east of Melbourne, there were also fires which closed the Southern Alps and Foothills areas of the Alpine National Park, especially around Dargo and Licola.
One of the features of these fires was the formation of pyrocumulus clouds (as shown in the image above, taken from the north of the fire burning out of the Dargo River and onto the Dargo High Plains, with Mt Blowhard in the foreground). The Licola fire burnt with such ferocity it was visible on the Bureau of Meteorology’s radar. A huge thundercloud formed from the fire, which then produced more than 1,200 lightning strikes, some of which sparked new fires. It created unpredictable weather conditions that hampered fire fighting efforts.
It’s been a hard summer for fires, both in Tasmania and the mainland mountains. In Victoria, more than 100,000 hectares were burnt in the high country, making it another season of ‘mega fire’ (these large fires are growing in frequency under the influence of climate change).
Here’s a quick look at the major areas that were burnt:
So far, the fire season has not seen any large fires in the high country. Let’s hope it stays that way! There has been one small one on the Bogong High Plains and the Mt Selwyn area. Dry lightening strikes have been problematic on a number of occasions.
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning fire crews are responding to two fires about three to five kilometres north-east of Licola and a small fire the Alpine National Park about 28km north-west of Dargo.
As of Thursday morning, the fires were each about 0.5 hectares in size.
DELWP fire crews also responding to There was no threat to communities.
Smoke may be visible from nearby communities and roads.
You can find details on current fires via the CFA website.
The main fire is the ABERFELDY – DONNELYS complex and it has already burnt more than 44,000 ha (as at 18 Jan). It started in the Aberfeldy area to the east of the Thomson Dam and Baw Baw plateau. It has now burnt east as far as the Licola road.
Check further down this page for updates on a fire that started Jan 21 in the north west spur area around Mt Feathertop.
UPDATE March 5:
VicRoads will open the Great Alpine Road to light traffic for the Labour Day long weekend, despite the ongoing maintenance and recovery works required after the Harrietville – Alpine North bushfires.
UPDATE, Feb 27: significant rain over the past day has greatly reduced fire activity across the Alps. The road from Heyfield to Licola has now been opened, as is the road from Omeo to Hotham Village.
The Great Alpine Road remains closed between Harrietville and Hotham and will remain so until further notice. Landslips on this road have added to the workload of removing ‘up to 10,000 fire killed trees’ along the GAR on this section.
UPDATE: Feb 15.
RECENT mild weather is helping suppression activities for the Aberfeldys-Donnellys fire and any more rain will ease conditions further.
The Aberfeldy fire has burned through 84,100 hectares and has a perimeter of almost 400 kilometres. Firefighters have constructed control lines on more than 300 kilometres of that perimeter by hand, with machinery and from the air.
Today, there are 295 personnel working on the fire, supported by 11 tankers, 87 slip-on units (4WD vehicles), 14 dozers and seven aircraft.
Further control lines are being constructed near the junction of Hickeys Creek Track and the southern end of Mt Margaret Track to protect the Avon Wilderness.
Backburning operations in the area will continue when weather conditions allow.
UPDATE: Feb 11:
The CFA reports:
Country Fire Authority and DSE advise that there is fire activity and suppression works in the Licola, Glenfalloch, Wollangarra, Glencairn area.
This bushfire is being controlled.
There is backburning on private property west of the Macalister River between Glenfalloch and Licola. Residents of Licola and surrounds may see active fire and there will be considerable smoke.
This message applies to the town of Licola and areas of Glenfalloch, Wollangarra and Glencairn.
This fire has burnt through approximately 82,522 hectares.
Control lines are being constructed on the Mt Margaret Track in an attempt to halt the easterly spread of the fire.
Machinery continues to work along the public-private interface north of Licola and around Glencairn.
Melbourne Water and DSE crews are patrolling on the south end of South Rd, near Mt Useful where back burning operations have been undertaken.
THE public can access Walhalla and Licola after a number of roads closed due to the Aberfeldy-Donnelly Fire were re-opened.
The fire is continuing to burn but is being controlled.
As Saturday morning, an area of 69,823 hectares has been burnt with a fire perimeter approximately 416 kilometres in length with 220km of control line built.
About 438 personnel, 150 vehicles, 21 dozers and 14 aircraft are involved in fighting the fire.
Among the roads opened include Licola Rd and Walhalla Rd only to the Thompson Dam Access Road.
UPDATE: Jan 27: The CFA reports that:
This bushfire is being controlled.
The fire has now burnt 71,000 ha.
UPDATE: Jan 25:ABC is reporting that ‘Towns to the south of the Aberfeldy bushfire could soon be under threat with northerly winds expected to strengthen overnight’.
Authorities remain concerned that hot winds could cause the Aberfeldy-Donnellys bushfire to jump control lines this morning.
The fire has now burnt 67,000 ha.
UPDATE: Jan 24. The CFA is reporting that the fire is being contained. Wind conditions have favoured crews working to build containment lines around the bushfire this morning, however, a predicted wind change is expected to challenge crews this afternoon.
The Alpine National Park and the Avon Wilderness Park are now officially closed.
DSE and CFA crews have been working to consolidate containment lines ahead of a predicted wind change on Friday afternoon.
The Aberfeldy bushfire is now around 62,000 hectares in size and has destroyed 22 homes.
Deputy Incident Controller Adrian Gutsche said a change forecast for the wind change had delayed the risk “by 12 hours”.
Mr Gutsche said crews had been working to consolidate firebreaks and control lines to the south of the fire zone ahead of a predicted wind change on Friday.
UPDATE: Jan 23. The CFA reports that the fire has now burnt 63,233 ha. There will be ‘aerial ignition within control lines east of Walhalla occurring today’ and additional control lines on the Walhalla – Cowwarr road.
UPDATE: Jan 22. The CFA reports that ‘this bushfire is being controlled.
The Aberfeldy Road is closed north of Beardmore.
Burning out operations are continuing north east of Walhalla and east of Aberfeldy.
There was increased fire activity north of Walhalla overnight’
About 600 crews, 130 vehicles and 13 aircraft are involved in fighting the fire, which is now 61,783 hectares in size with the fire perimeter now 322 kilometres.
Fire behaviour is expected to increase slightly as the temperature rises during the day and crews will continue backburning operations and building containment lines.
A critical 190 hectare backburn will reduce fuel loads in the unburnt area 5km south of Glenmaggie and 6km north-west of Heyfield. Smoke will be visible from surrounding communities.
UPDATE. Jan 21. The access to the mountains via Licola are still closed off. Restricted access has now been restored to Licola Rd, all the way from Licola to Heyfield.
Residents of the immediate area; people providing recovery and relief services, council or VicRoads employees or sub-contractors, and business owners in the immediate area can now access Licola.
Victoria Police has reiterated that many roads in the Seaton, Glenmaggie and Heyfield area are restricted to local access only.
Police will be actively patrolling the area and have asked drivers to take care on the roads and avoid unnecessary travel, particularly in fire-affected areas.
Department of Sustainability and Environment conducted a 180 hectare backburn Sunday morning in an unburnt area five kilometres south of Glenmaggie and 6km north-west of Heyfield.
This fire will remain active into Monday and possibly longer.
UPDATE. Jan 20. The Department of Sustainability and Environment advise that there is a planned 180 hectare back burn occuring in the Heyfield District area. The fire is still being contained. It has burnt 57,726 hectares.
UPDATE. As of Jan 19, the fire is still moving and has burnt out 52,669 ha.
At this point (Jan 18) this is the only significant fire burning near the high country. There were media reports earlier in the day that this fire complex was heading for the Avon wilderness.
TEN Licola locals are trapped as an out-of-control bushfire heads towards the township.
Victorian Fire Services Commisioner Craig Lapsley confirmed 90 school children at a camp in Licola had been relocated to Traralgon safely but ten locals remained isolated in the town.
There are five fire crews with the residents battling the blaze which is expected to hit between 4pm and 6pm this afternoon.
The Licola Rd has been closed since this morning leaving remaining residents no way to leave.
The blaze is now more than 44,500ha in size and creating spot fires 2-4km in front of it.
Mr Lapsley warned the fire, which still also threatens the townships of Seaton, Heyfield and Glenmaggie, could burn for as long as two weeks if mother nature was not kind.
“This has the potential to be a two-week fire fight,” he said.
“We would hope this weekend would be kind to us but there is no rain forecast.
“Without rain or moisture it’s very hard to bring it to a controlled position.”
He described the fire as difficult and unpredictable and said as the blaze spread into remote bushland it got harder to control from the ground.
There are more than 70 firetrucks, about 200 firefighters and 13 helicopters working to control the fire.
Five homes have already been destroyed in Seaton.
Heyfield incident controller Laurie Jeremiah told a media briefing at Seaton this morning that five homes were believed to have been burnt at Seaton and a family had been trapped in their house but were able to escape.
Mr Jeremiah also confirmed a fire tanker had been burnt.
The crew members took shelter in the vehicle while the fire went over and escaped unharmed, he said.
Mr Lapsley said the extent of damage to livestock and farm land was still unclear but would unfold in coming days and weeks.
“There will be damage to fencing and there will have to be damage to livestock,” he said.
“(Damage to livestock) is not something we have been able to calculate but there will be losses in those areas.”
The Harrietville–Alpine South fire has not spread much overnight, but there will be increased smoke visible from communities today as backburning operations progress.
The fire is now 12,130 hectares, with a perimeter of 228 kilometres.
The fire continues to burn in steep, rugged terrain with limited access for on-ground fire fighter crews.
Ongoing asset protection, suppression and patrolling activities continue around Mt Hotham, Dinner Plain and Dargo.
Areas of sensitive natural values including cultural heritage places, threatened species and critical breeding habitat have been identified and protective works undertaken.
Combined, the north and south fires are 30,400ha.
The Great Alpine Rd has reopened to the public from Dinner Plain towards Omeo yesterday at 7pm. From Mt Hotham to Dinner Plain, access is restricted to residents, essential services, accredited media and individuals or groups delivering relief and aid to residents and to animals.
UPDATE: Feb 13. Backburning continues to protect Dinner Plain. The southern fire front is moving roughly south eastwards, to the south of Dinner Plain.
THE Harrietville-Alpine fire remains active in the Dargo River valley area north of Dargo, however moist and cooler weather conditions have resulted in a decrease in fire activity.
The Harrietville-Alpine South fire is about 7127 hectares, and is not yet under control. With the north and south areas combined, the Harrietville-Alpine fire is 23,411ha.
The focus of firefighters is on both asset protection and back burning to contain the fire.
Back burning work is likely to continue for at least the next week. Residents and visitors to the area are asked to take extra care when travelling on local roads, as they are likely to experience increased smoke across roads and in the community, increased firefighting activity, and a greater number of emergency vehicles travelling in the area.
Back burning operations began Sunday afternoon along the southern edge of the Great Alpine Rd from the Alpine Resorts Commission entrance between Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham Resorts down to Dinner Plain Track.
Road closures remain in place, and anyone intending on travelling in the area should check with VicRoads for any updates.
The Great Alpine Rd is closed between Harrietville and Dinner Plain.Dargo-High Plains Rd is closed between the Great Alpine Rd and Dargo until further notice. Access to forests and parks north of Dargo is restricted as a result of this closure.
The Alpine National Park is closed east of Harrietville extending along Westons Spur Track to the Australian Alps Walking Track to Pretty Valley Track, then south to the Great Alpine Rd to the boundary of the Alpine National Park and Dinner Plain State Forest.
Mount Feathertop and its approaches are closed.
State Forest north of the fire area including the West Kiewa is also closed.
UPDATE. Feb 8. After a few days of continued fire control and mild conditions, fire activity has heightened considerably, putting Hotham village at direct risk. The fire is now operating on two main fronts. The fire was previously referred to as the ‘Harrietville – Feathertop Fire.’ It has been split into two fire sectors – the ‘Harrietville – Alpine North Fire’ and ‘Harrietville – Alpine South Fire’.
See below for update from Mt Hotham management:
The ‘Harrietville – Alpine Fires’ remains classified as ‘going’, no asset losses have been reported to date.
The wind direction has remained ‘NNW’ all day and with a wind speed of 30 kmh with gusts up to 50 kmh. Humidity is low at 33%.
Harrietville – Alpine South’ fire is firmly established in the ‘Dargo’ and has increased in size significantly during the course of the day. The fire is visually prominent SW of the village, along ‘Morning Star Spur’ and below ‘St Bernard’ and is moving up toward Baldy Creek to the SW of the resort centre. This fire activity is of concern – heavy aerial water bombing has been undertaken all day so as to prevent the fire moving into Baldy Hollow (immediately below the Village Centre and Summit). One Erickson Skycrane and two bucket equipped heavy lift helicopters with have been refilling from the snowmaking dam at Loch every 7 minutes all day. Dam capacity has been maintained. CFA/DSE expect the ‘Alpine South Fire’ to make further SSE runs in the untracked forest of the ‘Dargo’ until at least late Sat/early Sunday given the predicted weather conditions.
The control strategies for this part of the fires are limited due the dense nature and ruggedness of the terrain. The ‘Swift’s Creek’ ICC has indicated an ‘indirect attack/asset protection’ strategy aimed at keeping the main fire east of the ‘Dargo High Plains’ Road.
The ‘Harrietville – Alpine North’ fire continues to move through high elevation forest that was burnt in 2003 and 2006. The fire has now burnt down to the ‘Diamantina River’ along a 500m stretch – which proposes a potential threat to the Resort Water Catchment. Resort Management staff have observed smoke continuing to rise from the ‘Diamantina Area’, which indicates that the fire is still active, despite aerial suppression. CFA/DSE have reported that the hot edge on the Diamantina River continues to hold west of the river, but many hot spots remain, right down to the river bank. Felled timber on the helipad has delayed insertion of crews this morning, but crews are now working after the pad was aerial bombed. Options for providing water-pumping capability for ground crews to black out this edge are being explored
An aerial infrared scan (FLIR flight) this morning showed going fire continuing to back down in a westerly direction into the West Ovens and the upper part of the East Buckland catchments. The fire is also continuing to burn slowly down steep slopes into the headwaters of the Dargo catchment. It has reached the upper reaches of the Dargo River in some places and has uphill runs available to it once it crosses. The fire has burnt in a broad front southward along both sides of the Dargo High Plains Road. A further aerial FLIR scan will be flown this afternoon if time and conditions permit.
Note: A ‘Watch & Act’ message for Hotham and Dinner plain remains in place and ‘Advice messages’ for Harrietville, Dargo, Cobungra, Omeo, Swifts Creek and Ensay.
Today, Saturday and Sunday are classified ‘high-risk’.
UPDATE. Feb 6. Backburning has been carried out south of Harrietville and along the Great Alpine Road on the south western side of Hotham summit in recent days.
CFA reports that:
This fire is yet to be contained
Fire activity has increased significantly this afternoon and increased smoke will be evident.
The fire has the potential to cross the Great Alpine Road approximately 12 kilometres south of Harrietville heading in a westerly direction.
UPDATE: Feb 3. The Harrietville-Feathertop fire has now burnt more than 6,100 hectares of the Alpine National Park.
Alpine National Park is closed east of Harrietville extending along Westons Spur Track to the Australian Alps Walking Track to Pretty Valley Track, then south to the
Great Alpine Road to the boundary of the Alpine National Park and Dinner Plain State Forest. Mount Feathertop and its approaches are still closed.
Backburning will be carried out to the south of Harrietville between Old Coach Road and the East Ovens River.
The Great Alpine Road is still closed between Harrietville and Dinner Plain.
UPDATE. Feb 1. Spot fires occured within Hotham Village and have all now been controlled. However, CFA reports that the main fire is still not yet under control.
This bushfire is approximately 5000 hectares in size and is out of control.
The Hotham Dinner Plain community meeting will be held at 3pm Saturday February 2 at Rundells Alpine Lodge Dinner Plain.
The Great Alpine Road is closed between Harrietville and Dinner Plain and the Dargo High Plains Road is closed.
UPDATE. Jan 31. After a quiet few days, the fire is again threatening surrounding towns. The CFA reports:
There is a large, fast moving bushfire in the Mount Hotham and Hotham Heights area. It is travelling in asouth– south westerly direction.
This fire is expected to impact anytime within the next hour.
This bushfire is approximately 4100 hectares in size and is out of control, currently creating spot-fires approximately 2-3km/s ahead.
Relocation is not advisable. If required head to the neighborhood safer place.
UPDATE: Jan 28. The same as yesterday (see below). Additionally, the CFA advises that:
The Alpine National Park is closed east of Harrietville, west of Mt Cope, south of Mt Jim and north of the Great Alpine Road
UPDATE: Jan 27. The CFA reports that:
There is still fire activity near Harrietville township. This fire is yet to be contained and considerable work will be occurring over coming weeks. The Great Alpine Road and the Dargo High Plains Road are now open. Motorists are urged to use caution as emergency vehicles will be in the area.
Hotham Heights is not listed as being at risk at present, the main focus is around Harrietville. The fire has burnt an area of around 3,000 ha.
UPDATE: Jan 25: ABC reports that ‘Strong northerly wind gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour are fanning the flames of two bushfires burning in Victoria’s east. The winds are expected to intensify a fire in the Alpine region near Harrietville and Hotham Heights‘.
A watch and act alert remains in place for both of those communities.
Overnight there has been benign fire behaviour, with limited spread of fire since midnight. A short section of fire has continued to back down to the control line around private property north of Harrietville, but has not caused control problems. The weather forecast indicates that Mt Hotham could be impacted by fire in the next 24hrs
UPDATE: Jan 24. The CFA report that the fire is still moving rapidly, and it is travelling in a south easterly direction.
This fire is expected to impact Hotham Heights, Harrietville anytime within the next 24 hours.
There is no evacuation order for Harrietville. Residents without fire plan are being advised to leave by 6pm today. A Watch and Act notice remains in place for the communities of Hotham Heights and Dinner Plain.
This fire is expected to impact Falls Creek, Hotham Heights, Harrietville anytime within the next 24 hours.
The Great Alpine Road is closed between Harrietville and Hotham Heights.
UPDATE. Jan 23. The fire has continued overnight and the great alpine road is still closed, as are a number of parks in the area plus the Alpine National Park in the Feathertop vicinity. Check here for all closures.
Emergency services safely evacuated 37 hikers from the Mt Feathertop – Razorback walking tracks via helicopter.
The fire has burnt around 850 hectares in steep, dense bushland.
While no towns are directly under threat at this stage, fire services will closely monitor the fire and work hard to build containment lines today ahead of severe fire danger tomorrow.
UPDATE. Jan 22. 5pm. CFA are now advising:
This is a large, fast moving bushfire. It is travelling in a south easterly direction.
This fire is expected to impact Davenport Village, Falls Creek, Hotham Heights, Harrietville, Smoko anytime within the next 6 to 24 hours.
The great alpine road is closed between harrietville and Hotham Heights
Bushwalkers and other forest users are advised to avoid walking tracks in the Alpine National Park east of Harrrietville
It is described as being in the RAZORBACK NORTH WALKING TRK area, above the towns of Smoko, Freeburgh, and Harrietville.
Although described by the CFA as being ‘small’ the fire caused the Great Alpine Road to be closed on Jan 22.
A number of other small fires were reported on Jan 21 and 22 in the area, including one near Tawonga South and one near Falls Creek.