Coleraine saved from fire devastation

Posted on February 9, 2009, 3:03pm and updated on February 10, 2009 at 7:54 am ,  237 views

A wind change saved Coleraine from a similar fate to other Victorian towns that were destroyed by fire at the weekend.

However, one man was left with burns to 50pc of his body after trying to assist a neighbour in the blaze and was flown to the Alfred Hospital in a critical condition.

CFA Region 4 operations officer Steve Cooper said the fire was burning over the border, about an hour’s drive from Mount Gambier, in a southerly direction on Saturday afternoon when the wind changed, driving the fire east.

“It was heading straight for Coleraine,” he said, explaining the town was threatened and it was feared houses would be lost, including the home of Premier John Brumby’s parents.

“The wind then changed and pushed it north-east. All that happened within about an hour and we were lucky; we thought it would go through Coleraine, but it headed off at the last minute.”

More than 230 firefighters were involved in controlling the blaze, which required more than 35 CFA tankers, two aircraft and assistance from the Department of Sustainability and forestry industry brigades.

The fire started near the corner of Balochile Road and the Glenelg Highway around 12.30pm and was brought under control around 6pm.

Only one house, which Mr Cooper said he believed was an unoccupied holiday home on the fringes of Coleraine, was lost in the fire, along with hay sheds, kilometres of fencing and a large number of stock.

He said the 40-year-old man who was injured in the fire was helping a landholder cut a fence to release stock.

“He got caught up in the flames,” he said, adding he had not been updated on the man’s condition.

It was unknown whether the man was a CFA volunteer, but Mr Cooper said he was not undertaking duties on behalf of the fire service at the time.

He was in an induced coma on Sunday in the intensive care unit.

Mr Cooper said it was a harrowing weekend across the state.

“When I saw Ash Wednesday I thought ‘this is history I am witnessing’ and something that would never happen again, but this was far worse,” he said.

The fire also involved extensive road blocks with closures of the Glenelg Highway and Lower Hillgay Road, along with the Coleraine-Balmoral and Coleraine-Edenhope roads.

Some routes were not reopened until Sunday morning.

Electricity poles were also burnt down in the fire, leading to power outages in Casterton.

The Southern Grampians Shire has taken on the process of rehabilitating the area after the fire burnt 776 hectares, largely hilly grassland.

Mr Cooper said the project would involve the grim task of digging holes to bury stock, as well as fencing and restoring land that had been dug up by bulldozers and graders to create fire breaks.

Meanwhile, Mr Cooper has called on CFA volunteers to join strike teams to assist with fires still burning elsewhere in Victoria.

“We want to help firefighters who have worked hard for the last few days,” he said.

“Some of those volunteers may be people who have lost their own homes or families and to keep them in the field would be inhumane.”

He said he was seeking trained Region 4 volunteers in particular and urged them to call 1800 209 762.

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