Crews fighting the Bayindeen fire northwest of Ballarat, Victoria
The fire at Bayindeen and a blaze at Dereel are under control after an intense firefight. Image by HANDOUT/FOREST FIRE MANAGEMENT VICTORIA
  • disaster and accident

Residents safe to return as fire deemed suspicious

February 29, 2024

A blaze that threatened more than 100 homes during extreme conditions in Victoria’s west is being treated as suspicious, as evacuated residents are allowed to return home.

The fire at Dereel, about 30km south of Ballarat, and another at Bayindeen, west of Ballarat, have been declared under control after an intense firefight.

The cause of the Dereel blaze is under investigation because there was no dry lightning in the area, Emergency Management Commissioner Rick Nugent said.

“We don’t believe there was any tractors or other machinery working in that area at the time,” Mr Nugent told reporters in Ballarat on Thursday.

“So at the moment we are treating that fire as suspicious until we are able to prove differently.”

Flames are seen during a spot fire outside of Beaufort, Victoria
 Helicopters helped crews contain blazes in Victoria during catastrophic fire danger conditions. Image by Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS 

Flames were whipped up by strong hot winds during catastrophic fire conditions on Wednesday, prompting a warning for residents to shelter indoors.

Mr Nugent said at least one outbuilding had been lost and firefighters saved 117 homes at Dereel.

“What I’ve heard from the firefighting crew is they were putting the fire out on the doorstep (of homes), on back pergolas, in back yards, in front yards,” he said.

The fire at Dereel was under control as of Thursday and an advice message warned residents in the area to stay informed. 

Flames came within kilometres of Michelle de Groot’s house in Dereel on Wednesday.

She said she sought shelter at two evacuation centres, which had to be evacuated as the fire grew.

“We were choking on smoke, everyone’s there yelling ‘get out, you have to leave, it’s not safe’,” Ms de Groot told ABC radio.

The Bayindeen blaze was also declared under control after hundreds of firefighters stopped it spreading by building containment lines around its 165km perimeter.

An advice message instructed residents of dozens of communities forced to leave because of the Bayindeen blaze it was safe for them to return.

A CFA crew enters a paddock outside Beaufort, Victoria.
 Hundreds of firefighters worked to build containment lines around the Bayindeen blaze’s perimeter. Image by Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS 

The communities included Amphitheatre, Avoca, Bayindeen, Beaufort, Elmhurst, Raglan and Waterloo.

“There may still be some localised fire activity and smoke,” the warning stated.

“Aircraft, heavy machinery, and firefighters will still be active.”

Evacuation centres were still open on Thursday.

Some 30,000 people in communities near the Bayindeen blaze were warned earlier in the week their towns could be at risk and they should leave the area.

As of Thursday, six homes, and sheep and cattle were lost to the Bayindeen blaze.

Authorities had done almost 230 impact assessments as of the afternoon.

“The lower numbers of properties that we’ve seen damaged, the fact that there has not been, in the case of the fires, a loss of life I think speaks directly to the fact that Victorians have heeded the warnings,” Premier Jacinta Allan said.

Fire conditions are expected to spike again next Wednesday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to meet with the Victorian premier on Friday, and said his thoughts were with affected communities going through stress and anxiety.

“We hope that things continue to improve but it’s a very volatile situation that they are facing there,” Mr Albanese told Question Time on Thursday.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said while conditions could deteriorate quickly, authorities were doing all they could to keep people safe.

Farmers impacted by bushfires and storms since February 9 can apply for grants of up to $5000 from the Victorian Farmers Federation.

“Farmers have lost farm sheds, kilometres of fencing, stock, machinery and that’s just from early assessments,” president Emma Germano said.

Wildlife Victoria is expecting an influx of injured animals so the organisation has extra people working in phone rooms to make sure all cases are attended to.

Members of the public are urged to phone Wildlife Victoria for help if they spot an injured animal.