Fires Deemed Suspicious

A fire that led to the evacuation of dozens of homes in Melbourne’s south-east yesterday is now being treated as suspicious, after police earlier ruled it was not deliberately lit.

Earlier today, police said the Cheltenham blaze appeared to have been started by a campfire, but subsequent investigations by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) have prompted authorities to change their minds.

“After further investigation today, MFB fire investigators have determined the fire is suspicious and Victoria Police will investigate the incident,” the MFB said in a statement.

Police want to speak to anyone who was in the area when the fire started.

About 40 homes in the area were evacuated as at least 70 firefighters, four helicopters and about a dozen trucks were used to control the fire.

Firefighters remained on the scene overnight in warm conditions to ensure there were no flare-ups.

“There was always a threat with that type of environment that the actual fire could reignite seriously and take off into green areas where the fuel was and keep spreading,” MFB Commander Paul Illman said.

“We had a wetting-down and blacking-out [operation] to ensure that if there were any embers the fire did not take off again.”

The fire spread across about five or six hectares, damaged fences and burned through grassland in the Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery.

‘Suspicious’ fire at Sandringham

Several hours after that fire, a home was extensively damaged by a suspicious scrub fire in nearby Sandringham.

The house at Duff St, which was built only six or seven years ago, was badly damaged by a fire that began about 5:00pm yesterday.

A two-storey house with clear fire damage, surrounded by police tape.

Investigators believe the fire started in the adjacent parkland, burned through a fence and spread to the property.

It also caused minor damage to a second property.

Sandringham man Peter Marsh said he and his wife were inside their home when the house next door caught fire.

He said the couple thought they could smell smoke from the Cheltenham fire before they realised it was coming from next door.

“I said to my wife, ‘Should I turn the air conditioning off?’ because the smoke was getting a bit strong,” he said.

“I looked out the window and l could see flames from next door and rang triple-0.”

Mr Marsh and his wife left the house as firefighters worked for about an hour to bring the blaze under control.