Australia

Heatwave replaced by fire, flood threat

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As fire crews continue to battle a series of blazes in Victoria's far east, the weather bureau has issued a warning for flash flooding in the same region.

It has been a busy start to the New Year for the state's Country Fire Authority; after putting out more than 100 fires yesterday, authorities have had another busy day as temperatures reached the mid to high 30s in many areas.

The heatwave began on Friday with temperatures reaching the low 40s in the north, and the CFA has so far responded to 200 fires throughout the state, many of them grassfires.

Several bushfires in remote terrain in far East Gippsland were contained late today, but lightning in Victoria's west has sparked several grass fires this evening.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley says while milder conditions have been experienced today in southern parts of the state, the fire threat still remains.

"We've got another day of severe weather in the northern part of the state, very high fire rating in the other parts of the state, but we will see a weather change move through," he said.

The CFA says storms have already ignited a number of fires, but rain is helping to keep them from spreading.

Weather bureau spokesman Michael Efron says there is also a flash flood and hail warning for the same region.

"There is a bit of a convergence there as a result of sea breezes from the New South Wales coast and north-westerly winds across the rest of Victoria," he said.

Severe storm warnings have also been issued for Victoria's south-west and the Wimmera.

A cool change is forecast to move across the state on Wednesday.

Blackouts

In Melbourne, temperatures did not drop below 30 until early Tuesday morning.

Hundreds of homes were without power from 8pm on Monday after a power kiosk failed to cope with the increased demand.

Last week the State Government announced that power companies were installing powerline safety switches that can remotely shut down faulty powerlines during the fire season.

The remote switching will be more sensitive to power surges on code red days and days of severe and total fire ban.

Fire ecologist Dr Kevin Tolhurst says blackouts will become more common.

"That's going to have a certain backlash too," he said.

"There hasn't been much made of that at the moment, but by setting these triggers to react under lesser disruptions it will reduce the incidence of bushfire, but it will increase the likely blackouts to certain areas.

"And, as we know, power usage on hot, dry, windy days when these bushfires occur is very high so there's going to be a lot of people without power on those really hot, windy days, which is going to be an issue in itself."

Acting Premier Peter Ryan says people will be warned ahead of time before a blackout occurs.

"We can do it on a pretty locally based basis, and so we'll see what eventuates over the course of summer as it unfolds."

The new remote switching system will not be in place until January 23.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
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