Peat fires that have forced residents in Victoria’s south-west to evacuate their houses could continue smouldering for months, farmers say.
About 100 houses have been evacuated due to the fires burning near Cobrico over the last two days, with locals urged to leave the area until wind conditions change.
Cobrico farmer John Errey had to leave his home for a night on Thursday — and will probably have to do so again.
One of the blazes that tore through the region on St Patrick’s Day burnt three-quarters of his pasture, yet miraculously spared his house, dairy and livestock.
But the fires continue to smoulder in the peat swamp at the bottom of his farm.
“In 1983, we had spot fires from the Ash Wednesday fires down in there. It burnt for months,” Mr Errey said.
“[This fire] will smoulder for months until we get substantial rain.”
Mr Errey said the evacuation on Thursday night was “a little bit scary” at first.
“Everybody in the district got a knock on the door about 3:00am or earlier and we got asked to go to [a relief centre at] Terang for testing [for carbon monoxide poisoning],” he said.
“Nobody quite knew what was going on.”
Smoke could cause ongoing disruptions
Mr Errey said he expected smoke from the fire would continue to cause problems for locals.
“It will be disruptive, but there’s nothing we can do about that,” he said.
“You’ve just got to get on with it, and work around it.
“We might have to clear out at night … if it’s blowing directly over the house.”
Wind change could see entire town evacuated
Country Fire Authority (CFA) incident controller Mark Gunning said the Environmental Protection Agency had set up air-monitoring equipment around the swamp to measure carbon monoxide levels from the peat fires.
“The rain overnight has been very good,” Mr Gunning said.
“It’s not only settled the big fires at Gazette and Cobden but it’s been able to dampen … the fine particles in the air and it’s keeping them at bay.
“We’ll continue to monitor that.”
Strong breezes mean more people will have to be evacuated.
A powerful westerly could mean the entire town of Cobden — which has a population of 1,800 — would have to be temporarily evacuated, CFA officials conceded.
But they don’t want to alarm people and “don’t want to move people unnecessarily”, Mr Gunning said.
“If [the winds] stir up the carbon monoxide we’ll warn the community.”