AS PARTS of Victoria prepared for the first severe bushfire conditions of the season this weekend, authorities came under attack yesterday after they lost control of a planned burn on the Mornington Peninsula.
The fire at Point Nepean by the Department of Sustainability and Environment breached control lines on Monday and burnt 15 hectares before it was contained yesterday with the help of water-bombing aircraft.
Federal Liberal frontbencher and local MP Greg Hunt said serious questions needed to be asked about the State Government's competence in lighting the fire on a day when temperatures reached the mid-30s.
"The national-heritage-listed Point Nepean precinct was just recently handed over to the Victorian Government from the Commonwealth," Mr Hunt said.
"One of the first acts of the Victorian Government has been to start a bushfire in the park."
But Premier John Brumby defended the controlled burn, saying there was always the risk of the fires breaking control lines. He said it was not uncommon for controlled burns to break containment lines and it was a risk authorities were prepared to take to protect the state this summer.
"If DSE was going to err on any side, it would err on doing too much back-burning, too much fuel reduction, rather than too little," Mr Brumby said.
The department's chief fire officer, Ewan Waller, said the Point Nepean fire had been lit to try to improve public access to the park and destroy unexploded ammunition. Mr Waller said an unexpected wind shift had caused the fire to jump containment lines.
He said his department, which had burnt an unprecedented 20,000 hectares around the state this year, would probably be constrained in doing much more controlled burning this year as the weather heated up and vegetation dried out.
The row came as much of the state sweated through a fourth consecutive day of temperatures above 30. Mr Waller said he had not seen such a long stretch of hot days this early in the fire season, but the state was better prepared than ever before.
Fire conditions are expected to worsen on Saturday when strong northerly winds could push temperatures into the 40s in parts of northern Victoria.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Richard Carlyon said Melbourne's record November scorcher stretch of six days above 30, set in 1896, could be broken if tomorrow goes above its predicted top of 29. By yesterday it was the longest stretch of November heat in 80 years.
Meanwhile, a fire at Cape Conran in East Gippsland is thought to have begun as a controlled burn in April and to have continued burning underground in peaty swamp country.
After breaking out at the weekend, it had burnt 1260 hectares by yesterday and was expected to consume 4600 hectares before being contained later this week. Twenty kilometres of containment lines had been set up. It was being fought by 70 personnel, three bulldozers, three planes and two helicopters.
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