A MAN has died and several homes destroyed in a massive bushfire burning in eastern Victoria.
The man's body was found in a burnt-out car in the Seaton area, where at least one home and as many as five have been destroyed.
- READ MORE
- Licola residents trapped
- Bushfire News
- Fire victims tell of terror
- Have Your Say in the form below
The fire has burnt through an area of around 48,000ha and could continue for weeks authorities have warned.
Incident controller Laurie Jeremiah told a community meeting at the Sale relief centre the current fire was similar to the Licola bushfire which burnt more than a million hectares.
“We are going to be here for a number of weeks this fire is not going to go away, it’s a bit like 2006 (bushfires in Gippsland) revisited,” Mr Jeremiah said.
“And it’s only in the middle of January we have six weeks of summer to go.
“It’s really, really dry and until we get some decent rain this issue is not going to go away.”
He said evacuated residents may be able to get back to their homes tonight as the threat had passed for Dawson, Cowwarr and Seaton, but the threat remained for the Glenmaggie area.
He said they expected winds to drop to 15km/hr from the 50km/hr they experienced today which would assist the fire fighting efforts.
Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said at least four holiday shacks within national park boundaries had destroyed.
The fire began in the Baw Baw National Park yesterday and tripled in size overnight, forcing the early morning evacuation of homes in Seaton, Licola and Heyfield.
Mr Lapsley said the rapid expansion had taken crews by surprise.
"The fire was aggressive, very intense and fast moving through the night hours," he told reporters.
"It's been burning like a grassfire in forest conditions."
Peetika Hobson, who has lived in Seaton for 30 years, said her house had been lost.
"As we were driving back to Heyfield hoping to see if the house was still there, we got a text message from our son that he heard our house had burned down," she told Network Ten.
"It becomes quite sad thinking about what you've missed.
"You'll never go home again to the house where your family grew up."
The fire threatened homes in Seaton, Dawson, Glenmaggie and Heyfield today.
Incident controller Bill Johnstone said the fire could also affect the Macalister River valley and Licola, which has been cut off.
He said the crews were working in a deteriorating environment.
"Given the conditions it's probably as bad as it can get," he told reporters at Heyfield.
Mr Johnstone said between four and five homes in the Seaton area are believed to have been lost.
Mr Lapsley said the fire's size and remote location meant it would be a threat for weeks to come.
"One of the problems is that once it buries itself in the deep-seated bush area, the next northerly day it'll then come out near the communities of Heyfield again and Maffra," he said.
"We're now planning for a two-week campaign fire."
Mr Lapsley said the fire would take significant resources to contain.
"Once we move into the wilderness country we're moving into some very remote, and in particular, deep-seated bush environments, which are difficult for anyone to get into, so we can't put ground crews in," he said.
"It's not a single firefront. It's a number of firefronts and it actually sprays, if that's the right word, embers across hilltops which sees the spread of fire from spot fires."
Mr Lapsley said it was likely that livestock, fencing and farm equipment had been destroyed.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she felt for those caught up in the fires.
"I want to say to anyone in that position that this summer the Australian people are thinking of you and will be there to support you," she told Fairfax Radio.
Earlier Premier Ted Baillieu visited Gippsland fire relief centre this evening and said the Government’s fist priority was to help those who needed it.
“At the moment the focus is on response, we will get through that and we will work out what’s needed,” Mr Baillieu said.
“Emergency grants are available right now for anybody that does need it if they are displaced for food and accommodation.”
He said the relief efforts by volunteers and emergency agencies had been excellent, but the effort to get the fire under control was not over.
“One thing I have learnt is no two fires are the same, this fire has moved in ways which are probably quite different,” he said.
“It’s growing very quickly and in barely 28 hours it’s gone to nearly 50,000 ha (in size.)”
Emergency Services Minister and member for Gippsland Peter Ryan was also in Sale said it brought back memories of the recent 2003, 2006 and 2009 fires, but he said natural disasters like this were part of life in many regional areas.
“The main thing is the protection of life and as we speak not everybody is accounted for,” Mr Ryan said.
Additional reporting: AAP