Updated

Several schools to close, catastrophic fire danger warning for Wimmera

Ben Fraser
Updated February 12 2024 - 6:10pm, first published 4:55pm

UPDATE: The department's Bushfire and Grassfire Preparedness Policy requires all schools and early childhood services on the (Bushfire At-Risk Register) BARR and the Category 4 list close when a Catastrophic day is forecast in their fire weather district.

The following schools have announced closures for Tuesday, February 13, 2024:

Wimmera: Dimboola Memorial Secondary College , Edenhope College, St Malachy's School (Edenhope), Goroke P-12 College, Horsham West and Haven Primary School, Horsham Primary School, Holy Trinity Lutheran College, Jeparit Primary School, Kaniva College, Minyip Primary School, Murtoa College, Our Lady Help of Christians School, Natimuk Primary School, Nhill College, Nhill Lutheran School, St Patrick's School (Nhill), Rupanyup Primary School, St Arnaud Primary School, St Mary's School (Warracknabeal), Warracknabeal Primary School, Warracknabeal Secondary College, Warracknabeal Special Developmental School

Stawell: Stawell Secondary College, Stawell West Primary School, St Patrick's School (Stawell),

Ararat: Ararat Secondary College (School Farm campus).

Several school have announced they would be closed on February 13 as catastrophic fire danger warning for Wimmera. File Picture
Several school have announced they would be closed on February 13 as catastrophic fire danger warning for Wimmera. File Picture

EARLIER: Country Fire Authority chief officer Jason Heffernan said predicted conditions would be some of the most dangerous grassfire conditions since the Black Summer of 2019-20.

The warning has forced several schools to close their doors on Tuesday, February 13, following a Total Fire Ban for the Wimmera, Mallee and Northern Country fire weather districts.

Horsham College's McKenzie Creek campus, Horsham West and Haven Primary School, and Murtoa P-12 College are among the schools that would be closed.

Skene Street Specialist School in Stawell will remain open; however, bus services will not run in line with the Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating.

Worst fire risk since 2019

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said the conditions represent the worst fire risk day Victoria has experienced since the 2019/20 fire season.

Tomorrow's conditions in the Wimmera, Mallee and Northern Country will be hot and windy, with temperatures reaching around 40 degrees and northerly winds around 40-50km/h before a gusty south-westerly wind change with wind speeds between 60-80km/h.

"Tomorrow's conditions will put you and your families lives at risk if a fire starts and takes hold," CO Heffernan said.

"Do not plan to defend your home on Catastrophic fire danger days - the safest place to be is away from high-risk areas such as campsites, parks and forests. Catastrophic conditions make it difficult for firefighters to control fires should one start."

Severe Weather Update: Cold front to bring thunderstorm outbreak to the south-east and Extreme Fire Danger for Victoria & South Australia.
Video current: 12:30pm AEDT 12 February 2024. Courtesy: Bureau of Meteorology

CO Heffernan said the safest option for people currently in bushfire risk areas within the Wimmera region is to start planning to leave tonight or early in the morning.

"Be prepared for fire, monitor conditions and know where to get information so you can make good decisions about your safety," he said.

"Don't wait for an official warning before you leave; emergencies can start quickly and threaten lives and homes within minutes.

"If you are caught out and all other bushfire plans have failed, be aware of local last resort options such as Neighbourhood Safer Places and designated Community Fire Refuges."

Challenging weather ahead

Emergency Management Commissioner Rick Nugent said Tuesday's weather forecast would be challenging.

"We're going to have an extremely hot, dry and windy day," Mr Nugent said on Monday.

"This increased fire risk has resulted in a catastrophic fire danger rating for the Wimmera region... this is the first time since November 2019 that we've had a catastrophic fire danger rating."

A Total Fire Ban means no fire can be lit in the open air or allowed to remain alight from 12.01am-11.59pm on the day of the Total Fire Ban.

A Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating means conditions will be the most dangerous for a fire under the new Australian Fire Danger Rating System.

Victorians should also make sure they have access to more than one source of information.

They include:

  • ABC local radio, commercial and designated radio stations of Sky News
  • The VicEmergency App
  • The VicEmergency website www.emergency.vic.gov.auamp;source=gmail&ust=1707797048552000&usg=AOvVaw1k-mGHmvAhCEoDPTQdHoLy" www.emergency.vic.gov.au
  • The VicEmergency Hotline on 1800 226 226
  • CFA or VicEmergency Twitter or Facebook

How to prepare for a Catastrophic fire danger day:

Catastrophic fire danger signals the worst possible grass and bushfire conditions.

Do not plan to stay and defend your home on Catastrophic fire danger days. Homes are not designed or constructed to withstand fire in these conditions - even the best prepared homes will not be safe. You could lose your life or be seriously injured.

The safest place to be is away from high-risk areas such as campsites, parks and forests.

If you're in a bushfire risk area, plan to leave your home or accommodation early in the morning or the night before.

Pack an overnight bag with essential supplies including provisions for pets and animals.

Avoid unnecessary travel and check for road closures and detours.

Check whether schools, childcare, transport and health services are impacted and adjust travel accordingly.

Prepare for power outages.

Check on and assist any vulnerable neighbours.

If you are on mains water, turn off hoses and sprinklers if you evacuate your property.

What to do on a Catastrophic fire danger day:

You won't always receive a warning or be told what to do if a fire starts. Don't wait and see - it's up to you to be prepared. Know what to do and take action.

You should never wait to receive an official warning before you leave. Emergencies can start quickly and threaten lives and homes within minutes. Leave bushfire risk areas early in the morning or the night before.

Be prepared for fire, monitor conditions, and know where to get information so you can make good decisions about your safety.

If you get caught out during a fire, know where your last resort options are including Neighbourhood Safer Places and designated Community Fire Refuges. These are places of last resort when all other bushfire plans have failed.

They may protect you and your family from direct flame and radiant heat, but they do not guarantee safety.

Ben Fraser

Ben is the Editor with the Wimmera Mail-Times, Stawell Times-News and Ararat Advertiser. Ben is the former chief of staff at the Portland Observer, a qualified teacher, and an Leadership Great South Coast alumni (2019).

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