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Vic: Fires contained but extreme weather looms

23 Jan 2009 2:29 AM

MELBOURNE, Jan 23 AAP - A cool change has helped firefighters contain fires that had been burning out of control in central and eastern Victoria.

But the entire state faces the most severe fire threat of the summer over the next few days due to a combination of scorching temperatures and high winds.

Fires burned within metres of homes in Melbourne's south and in Malmsbury in central Victoria on Thursday evening, while residents in nearby Woodend were under serious threat for several hours.

Both blazes were brought under control late on Thursday and fire crews worked through the night to hold them in check.

More than 200 firefighters, 54 trucks and four waterbombing aircraft tackled a 400-hectare blaze that threatened the townships of Malmsbury and Taradale, fanned by a southerly wind change late in the afternoon.

The fire blackened around 160 hectares of private farmland and some 140 hectares of state forest.

Roads and the Melbourne to Bendigo rail line were closed, delaying thousands of peak hour commuters.

The Woodend fire swept to within a kilometre of the western edge of the town.

Close to 200 firefighters manning 38 trucks were still struggling to contain the fire on Thursday night.

Country Fire Authority (CFA) chief officer Russell Rees warned Victorians not to be complacent.

"The honeymoon is over, the fire season is here amongst us and we need to work together," Mr Rees told reporters.

"This last week and a half of hot weather has dried the fuel out completely for much of Victoria. The end result is we get fires and they are hard to extinguish.

"Saturday and Sunday should be OK, but it'll be heating up by Monday, I'd say Tuesday's getting closer to the worry day. Traditionally February is the worst month for Victoria."

Residents in the Melbourne bayside suburbs of Seaford and Carrum feared the worst for the second time in three days when hot winds whipped up the remnants of a grassfire that burned there on Tuesday.

Police began investigating the cause of the blaze after CFA crews contained it on Thursday afternoon.

Fires also broke out in the state's far east near Mallacoota, at Stuart Creek, near Bruthen, and in the South-East Forests National Park at Yambulla, just across the NSW border.

No property was under threat, and only the Yambulla fire remained out of control overnight.

Police were treating as suspicious a small fire that burnt through noxious weed on the parched bed of Lake Wendouree in Ballarat.

Although temperatures in the high 30s are forecast across the state on Friday, there are no fire bans in force in Victoria.