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Vic: Fire fighters battle to keep blazes from joining

By Michelle Draper and Jeff Turnbull
11 Feb 2009 5:14 PM

MELBOURNE, Feb 11 AAP - Firefighters are working furiously to build containment lines as two major blazes burning close together in Victoria threaten to join.

Just 18km separate the Bunyip Ridge fire east of Melbourne and the 100,000 hectare Yea-Murrindindi blaze on Wednesday.

"There certainly is the very real possibility that these fires may join," a Country Fire Authority spokesman said.

He said hundreds of kilometres of control lines were being built to keep the fires apart.

"We're hopeful that the strategy will be completed in time for warmer weather later in the week," the spokesman said .

A merged fire could have massive implications for the state's gas and water supplies, with the Longford gas plant and Thompson Reservoir in the area.

Country Fire Authority Deputy Chief Fire Officer Steve Warrington said the Thompson Reservoir in the Upper Yarra Valley northeast of Melbourne, a major catchment for Melbourne's water supply, could come under threat.

"Thompson Reservoir is a concern because of the long term impacts for water catchment in Victoria," Mr Warrington told reporters.

"A fire in the catchment is something of significance in the immediate term and in the longer term if the water harvest is affected by the destruction of the catchment.

"And everything is being down to prevent the fire reaching the gas plant at Longford."

Victoria has experienced a period of milder southerly winds over the past few days but temperatures are expected to start to increase from tomorrow, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Senior Meteorologist Phil King said temperatures would increase two or three degrees on Thursday, reaching the low to mid-20s across the state, but winds would drop off.

Similar conditions are forecast for Friday, with temperatures in the mid-20s predicted for Melbourne and fire affected areas.

Saturday temperatures would creep into the mid to high 20s with a northeasterly wind, but sea breezes in the evening could complicate fire fighters' efforts, Mr King said.

"Once we start getting wind changes we start to get more dangerous conditions," he said, although he added the change would not be as severe as that experienced last weekend when temperatures of up to 48 degrees Celsius fanned fires which destroyed towns and killed at least 181 people.

Temperatures would increase into the 30s next week on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but the winds would remain light, Mr King said.