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‘Grave concern’ over Wednesday heat spike in Victoria after six homes destroyed in bushfires

<span>Smoke from bushfires rise north of Beaufort near Ballarat in Victoria on Saturday. Authorities are concerned conditions in the coming week will be the worst in four years, with temperatures set to exceed 40C on Wednesday. </span><span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Smoke from bushfires rise north of Beaufort near Ballarat in Victoria on Saturday. Authorities are concerned conditions in the coming week will be the worst in four years, with temperatures set to exceed 40C on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

Six homes have been destroyed by bushfires in Victoria, as authorities issue a warning of “grave concern” for fire danger in the state on Wednesday.

On Sunday morning, Victoria’s emergency services minister, Jaclyn Symes, announced that after 228 impact assessments were carried out following fires in western Victoria, six residential homes were deemed to have been destroyed.

“Obviously, that is very sobering news for those families,” Symes said, adding that there would be “support measures” for those communities.

She said hot temperatures forecast for Wednesday were now the main focus for authorities.

Forecasters are predicting temperatures to exceed 40C in western parts of the state on Wednesday, spiking firefighters’ concerns.

“What we know already is that the indicators are in the extreme range,” Symes said.

She noted that the Country Fire Association chief, Jason Heffernan, has “expressed his grave concern about what may eventuate on Wednesday”.

Heffernan said Wednesday “could quite potentially be the worst fire day Victoria has seen in four years”, the Age reported.

On Sunday Heffernan said he had met with the emergency management commissioner and fellow chiefs to discuss strategy and resourcing over the next couple of days.

“We are expecting half of the state to be in the high end of extreme fire danger on Wednesday and depending on how the models firm up in the next few days, we may see the potential for some catastrophic conditions in the Wimmera weather district,” he said.

Authorities were “very focused” on the Bayindeen fire but “as any seasoned firefighter would know, it’s the fire that you don’t have at the moment that could potentially be the trouble for you”, Heffernan said.

“So we are preparing to protect those communities that will experience extremely hot weather and hot northerly winds next week.”

Symes said they were expecting “not only high temperatures but also wind is expected and given the hot weather that we have had in recent weeks, a lot of drying has occurred, particularly in the west of the state.”

The forecast for Wednesday was predicting 44C in Mildura in the state’s far north-west, with many other towns expected to hit the high 30s – including 36C in Melbourne.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the hot weather will be joined by strong, gusty winds.

“All of the elements that do lead to dangerous fire conditions are starting to rear up again on Wednesday,” senior meteorologist Angus Hines said.

“We’ve got many areas of western Victoria at extreme fire danger for Wednesday ... there’s a possibility that even more areas could see that extreme fire danger rating or even a chance they could be upgraded to catastrophic fire danger,” Hines said.

The large fire west of Ballarat had burned through more than 16,000 hectares of land by the end of Saturday.

There were about 550 firefighters on the ground on Sunday as part of fire suppression efforts, Symes said.

One watch and act warning was in place on Sunday morning for towns including Amphitheatre and Elmhurst, while an advice warning was also in place for areas surrounding Ballarat. Another advice warning was in place for Lakes Entrances beach on the other side of the state.

Residents who were told to evacuate from the towns of Amphitheatre, Avoca, Bayindeen, Beaufort, Ben Nevis, Buangor, Chute, Crowlands, Elmhurst, Eversley, Glenlofty, Glenlogie, Glenpatrick, Glenshee, Green Hill Creek, Landsborough, Main Lead, Middle Creek, Mount Cole, Mount Cole Creek, Mount Lonarch, Nowhere Creek, Percydale, Raglan, Warrak, Warrenmang and Waterloo were on Sunday being told it was still not safe to return.

Symes said government officials would meet with the Bureau of Meteorology and fire agencies to “get a sense of what Wednesday looks like”.

“We will have more to say in the coming days, but I do want to take the opportunity to remind Victorians who are in fire-prone areas, particularly the west and central parts of the state, you must act,” she said.

She said residents needed to have fire plans developed.

“You must have the conversations with your family members, your neighbours, and know what you’re going to do in the event of an evacuation,” Symes said.

- Additional reporting by Royce Kurmelovs, AAP