Like many places in East Gippsland, Orbost was deserted over the weekend as bushfires edged closer to the township.
A town meeting last Friday morning delivered the pointed message – if you can leave, you must – which has been the State Government’s most prominent line during what has been a disastrous two weeks in East Gippsland and the High Country.
Members of the community hit the road on Friday through to 9am Saturday morning, heading west prior to the Princes Highway between Lakes Entrance and Orbost being shut at 9am on Saturday.
Fires in the Buchan Valley and north of Bete Bolong and Jarrahmond threatened to reach the town due to northerly winds, however an afternoon change to a south-westerly pushed the danger away.
The highway reopened to Lakes Entrance on Sunday morning once the danger had passed.
On Monday night the community again came together for another town meeting, filling the Orbost Snowy Rovers Football Netball Clubrooms.
Incident controller, Anthony Maxwell explained of the almost one million hectares burnt across East Gippsland, around 535,000 was in the Snowy region.
He said there had been around 1400 stock losses, however he expected the number to grow once isolated areas become accessible.
Three-hundred-and-eighty firefighters, of the 1000 are on the job in East Gippsland, are stationed in Orbost.
“Our main focus is around keeping people safe and trying get into those isolated communities, we’re bolstering town defences and trying to provide medical response where we can,” he said.
“We’re also working to restore essential services and road access.
“Our priority is to provide the community with timely and tailored warnings – warnings are moving up and down and we’re trying to provide the best advice to the community in a timely fashion.”
Forest Fire Management operations manager in Orbost, Grant Tucker, said his team is working hard to secure Cann River by burning off the areas that aren’t burnt before moving towards Tamboon to begin work on isolated communities in that area.
Mr Tucker said people in Bendoc must be vigilant and aware evacuation warnings may be turned on and off with regularity.
“Under the current environmental conditions, it’s unprecedented environmental conditions we’ve got, extreme and erratic fire behaviour, we can’t afford to be putting anyone’s life at risk, firefighter or community member, on top of protecting assets,” he said.
Mr Tucker said work is continuing beside the highway east of Orbost, taking out anything that can affect it.
“The security of the highway is becoming a significant issue and as much as we don’t want to burn out the last bits of bush, the reality is this is going to be sitting on us all summer and if we don’t burn it out there’s potential it will push across the highway and end up back in town (Orbost) at some stage,” he said.
Mr Tucker said his teams are currently working to protect Marlo.
IMAGE: Forest Fire Management operations manager in Orbost, Grant Tucker, speaking about the works teams have been conducting to ensure safety in the Snowy region during Monday night’s town meeting at the Orbost Snowy Rovers Football Netball Clubrooms. (PS)