Victoria fires: authorities on alert as strong winds develop amid 40C heat and catastrophic conditions

<span>NSW Rural Fire Service crews have joined their Victorian counterparts at a base camp in Ballarat ahead of extreme and catastrophic conditions in the Wimmera and the state’s west on Wednesday.</span><span>Photograph: Con Chronis/AAP</span>
NSW Rural Fire Service crews have joined their Victorian counterparts at a base camp in Ballarat ahead of extreme and catastrophic conditions in the Wimmera and the state’s west on Wednesday.Photograph: Con Chronis/AAP

Authorities were on high alert for bushfires as temperatures rose across Victoria on Wednesday afternoon, with the state’s control centre warning the state was not “out of the woods”.

An emergency warning for a grass fire located at Kleins Road, Dereel was issued on Wednesday evening.

Residents of Corindhap, Dereel, Enfield, Mount Mercer, and Rokewood were told to “leave now, if you are not prepared to stay” as at 7.5opm.

Renewed calls for residents in Beaufort, Brewster, Ercildoune, Glenbrae, Langi Kal Kal, Trawalla and Waterloo to “leave now” were issued at 8pm, with an update that a bushfire at Bayindeen-Rocky-Road is “still active” and “not yet under control”.

Strong westerly winds have the potential to make fire fighting difficult, the update said. “Do not wait until the bushfire spreads closer before moving to a safer location.”

“The fire could grow significantly and may become uncontrollable.”

Catastrophic conditions had been forecast in the Wimmera region, in the state’s west, on Wednesday afternoon, while half the state was under an extreme fire danger rating. Emergency authorities had on Wednesday morning issued a final warning for residents in the state’s west to leave.

The Victorian State Control Centre spokesperson, Luke Hegarty, told the ABC that authorities were on high alert as cloud cover lifted, temperatures increased and winds picked up late Wednesday afternoon.

Related: Victoria fires: more than 30,000 evacuations urged ahead of Wednesday’s bushfire risk

“We’re seeing conditions starting to develop in south-west Victoria and through the Wimmera that are matching up with what the forecast was,” he said.

“We still have a couple of hours before we settle to a point where we say we are confidently out of the woods.”

The Bureau of Meteorology senior meteorologist Stephanie Miles said temperatures were still rising just before 5pm on Wednesday, while western Victorian had recorded “gusty conditions”.

“We were expecting some wind gusts around 60-80km/h and that’s definitely what we’ve seen so far,” she said.

“It’s probably going to stick that way until we get the westerly change and it’s probably going to come through those parts, especially around the [Bayindeen] fire, after 6pm.”

According to the BoM, Walpeup, in north-west Victoria, hit 43.5C just before 4pm, while Hopetoun, 400km north-west of Melbourne, reached 42.6C shortly after 3.15pm.

The Country Fire Authority’s (CFA) chief officer, Jason Heffernan, on Wednesday morning asked anyone left in the area who was planning to defend their home to reconsider, stressing no houses were designed to survive catastrophic conditions.

“Unless your property is immaculately prepared and you have firefighting resources available, and that you are fit and mentally capable to sustain a long-duration firefight in protecting your own home, my strong advice to community is leave early,” he told the ABC.

A cool change was expected in central parts of Victoria after 8pm, but was predicted to bring wind gusts of up to 80km/h and dry lightning.

Authorities on Wednesday said the Bayindeen bushfire, north-west of Ballarat and about 22,000 hectares in size, had been contained, but firefighters were on alert for risks posed by windy conditions forecast for later in the day.

“There is a real risk this fire could breach containment lines and those communities could be impacted by fire or smoke or they’re cut off from essential services,” the CFA incident controller Jarrod Hayse said.

Hayse said firefighters were monitoring the perimeter of the fire, that began last Thursday and had destroyed six homes.

Authorities on Tuesday urged more than 30,000 Victorians living in the potential fire zone, between Ballarat and Ararat in the state’s west, to leave their homes overnight or by Wednesday morning.

About 110 firefighters from New South Wales had been deployed to Ballarat and Halls Gap, alongside thousands of Victorian firefighters and more than 60 aircraft.

Extreme fire danger was also expected for much of eastern South Australia on Wednesday, with the emergency services minister, Joe Szakacs, warning the state’s firefighters were facing some of the harshest weather this summer.

Seven South Australian districts had an extreme fire danger rating on Wednesday.