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Vic: Residents flee amid new bushfire threat

By Katie Bradford and Edwina Scott
02 Mar 2009 7:28 PM

MELBOURNE, March 2 AAP - After three weeks of living on the edge, many of Warburton's tired residents are fleeing the town as the latest fire threat looms.

Winds of up to 150km/h and temperatures in the low 30s are expected to create extreme fire conditions across Victoria on Tuesday.

Authorities have warned fire conditions will be almost as bad as Black Saturday three weeks ago, when at least 210 people perished.

For the past three weeks, the Yarra Valley town of Warburton has been on tenterhooks, told to brace for the next major blaze.

As warnings were ramped up on Monday about the extreme fire conditions ahead, many decided to get out. More were expected to follow in the evening.

"A lot of people in Warby have left already and we'll leave, no doubt, because it's going to be windy tonight," Greg Mitchell, who lives just out of Warburton, said.

"We've got all our essentials packed ready to go and we've got the radio on ABC.

"You don't know what the fire's going to do, especially with the strong northerly.

"There's always a lot of controversy about the strength of the wind ... it's certainly a problem because everything's so dry."

The deadly East Kilmore-Murrindindi Complex has been burning since the February 7 fires.

It's even threatening to return to towns it has already devastated, although communities such as Flowerdale and Kinglake are more likely to be hit by the winds than flames.

But in tiny Flowerdale, where eight locals died and most buildings were destroyed on February 7, some residents are determined to stay.

John Burgess said no one was fleeing the town because "there's nothing left to burn".

He said the advice received from the Country Fire Authority (CFA), along with text message alerts sent out by police, had been great.

But he and his mates were staying put.

"We're basically all driving around in dust anyway so we can live with that," he said.

Department of Sustainability and Environment chief fire officer Ewan Waller said towns such as Flowerdale and Kinglake would likely be hit by strong winds that would send ash, soot and dust rushing through the streets.

But the communities were unlikely to see more flames, he said.

In any case, there was not much left to burn.

City of Bendigo councillor Peter Cox said residents in his ward of Eaglehawk, which bore the initial brunt of the Black Saturday fires, were "obviously apprehensive".

He was not aware of people leaving on Monday, but more people were likely to leave if fire approached a second time.

"I guess there'd have to be a consensus since three weeks ago that a lot of people decide not to defend their houses because of the dangers," Mr Cox said.