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Residents of eastern Victoria are bracing for heavy rain and potential flash flooding leading to landslides only hours after windy and hot conditions fuelled two severe bushfires that threatened homes in East Gippsland.
Severe weather warnings for heavy rainfall and damaging winds were in place late on Tuesday for almost the entirety of the state’s east.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned rainfall of up to 100 millimetres in 24 hours could induce flash flooding in parts of Victoria’s north-eastern mountain ranges and the Gippsland region.
State Emergency Service chief officer of operations Tim Wiebusch warned some small communities could be cut off for 12 to 24 hours due to floodwater. Bushfires had created more debris and destabilised trees, he said, creating the possibility of localised landslides in steeper terrain.
“If you are confronted by flash floodwaters, our best advice is turn around and find another way,” he said.
“Do not attempt to drive through those flash floodwaters. It may be the last decision you make.”
The largest rainfall totals are expected in the state’s east on Wednesday, and further damaging wind will cross coastal areas on Thursday morning.
Transport Victoria said it would close the Bogong High Plains Road between Mount Beauty and Falls Creek on Tuesday night due to the risk posed by the downpour. A section of the road was shut for months until April this year after a landslip caused by heavy rain.
Between 30 and 60 millimetres of rain was expected to fall on the Briagolong and Loch Sport fires in East Gippsland late on Tuesday, bringing an end to three days of challenging conditions for firefighters.
Residents of Briagolong and surrounds were told at 4am on Tuesday it was too late to safely evacuate, after the fire 252 kilometres east of Melbourne tripled in size to 17,500 hectares, driven by high winds. By Tuesday afternoon, rain hit Gippsland, downgrading the fire to a “watch and act”.
One home was destroyed in the blaze. Fire investigators are now examining whether it was started by an out-of-control private burn.
Another fire near Loch Sport was still threatening homes even as the rain fell at 4pm, with those living in the seaside village told it was too late to leave.
Ray Johnson, who runs the Loch Sport caravan park, told 3AW the “whole sky was glowing red” overnight.
“It’s a wait and see at the moment. We need the rain … our lives don’t feel threatened or anything, we feel safe, it’s just a bit of anxiety now.”
Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan said the cooling conditions were a “welcome reprieve” and firefighters would get the Loch Sport blaze under control quickly.
“Our attention will then turn to making our way around the fire to do the overhaul and suppression, make sure they’re contained, but that will be made difficult because the ground will be very slippery and muddy,” he said.
The bushfire danger period will start this week in East Gippsland and Wellington shires, six weeks earlier than usual.
Climate change is making bushfires more frequent as average global temperatures increase, resulting in hotter, drier weather. Australia has warmed, on average, almost 1.5 degrees since national records began in 1910.
Melburnians should expect more soggy days ahead as a cold front pushes through the state. Credit: Chris Hopkins
Weatherzone meteorologist Angus Konta said a “wintry blast” was hitting Victoria as a low-pressure system pushes cold air across the state.
Melbourne could receive between 30 and 60 millimetres of rain mid-week, as temperatures drop to a maximum of 14 degrees on Wednesday and 16 degrees on Thursday.
“Spring does get pretty unstable in terms of those temperature swings, but it’s unusual to see such a huge swing from mid to high 30s right down into the teens in the space of a couple of days,” Konta said.
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