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Residents on alert as fires continue to rage -

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Fires continue to rage across Victoria

Reporter: Ben Knight

HEATHER EWART: I'm Heather Ewart coming to you tonight from Victoria, which is still in the grip of
a bushfire crisis. Indeed, firefighters in three states are battling bushfires; as well as
Victoria, there are two fires burning out of control in Tasmania tonight and fires burning in
southern NSW. A lot of hard work and lighter than expected winds helped keep the Victorian fires at
bay over a scorching weekend, but huge fires are still burning and more hot weather is forecast in
a few days' time. The fires are still raging across the east of the state and a fire in the west
was also burning out of control late today. And while communities in the path of the fires have
responded calmly and largely successfully to the threat, there's a growing realisation that they'll
have to remain on alert for weeks and possibly months. Tonight, Natasha Johnson reports from the
farming community of Briagolong in Gippsland and Ben Knight looks at the battle in the high country
of north eastern Victoria.

BEN KNIGHT: You don't put a fire like this out, you just try and stop it from getting onto private
property. When the fire came over the ridge at Kevington last night, crews were able to save the
town. But even as they did, new spot fires were breaking out as the wind picked up embers and threw
them into hills kilometres away.

KEVINGTON RESIDENT: Good on 'em. I love the guys. I've seen them for the last seven days filling up
their bags of water.

IRENE POOLE, KEVINGTON RESIDENT: Every one of those men out there need a medal. They were
fantastic, they were just here so quick.

BEN KNIGHT: This is what it's been like all weekend temperatures in the 40s and single digit
humidity feeding fires in bushland full of bone dry timber and, overhanging it all, the threat of
strong winds that would whip the flames into the tops of the trees, creating an inferno. But by
this morning those strong winds hadn't arrived, giving firefighters a chance to control the fires
before the hot weather returns later in the week. The hilly terrain makes these fires difficult to
fight. In some towns residents who stay know the CFA can't save their houses. Yet everywhere people
are staying. This was the fifth day in a row the locals at Merryjig have packed their local hall to
hear the latest on the fires.

FIRE SERVICE OFFICER: What we've had is fairly benign weather conditions again for the third day on
the trot, which has been good for us. We've still got that inversion low, and you can blame that
for all the smoke in the town.

BEN KNIGHT: The smoke has been hanging around for days, a sign of what's coming. But no one seems
panicked, nor are authorities trying to raise the tension.

FIRE SERVICE OFFICER: Please keep in mind what we've been telling you the facts about how houses
burn down, the facts about how survivable this is if you prepare in advance.

BEN KNIGHT: But everyone here is taking this very, very seriously.

RESIDENT: The waiting around is the really difficult part of it.

RESIDENT: We've had mixed feelings but we're pretty confident now that we've made the right
decision.

BEN KNIGHT: One of those listening was Rob MacKenzie. He, like everyone else in the room, has never
had to face this decision before and is now finding out what it means.

FIRE SERVICE OFFICER: I've been reading reports of, for example, someone saying, "I'm going to stay
with my house but if it gets too bad I am going to run to the dam. " Absolute no no.

BEN KNIGHT: The danger at Rob MacKenzie's house lies just over the back fence. So he's been getting
ready.

ROB MACKENZIE: We've just sort of stocked up on all the stuff we needed like gloves and head torch,
helmets, goggles and shields.

BEN KNIGHT: For almost a week the air has been filled with smoke and ash, the tension growing each
day.

ROB MACKENZIE: I've been surprised how many people were determined to sort of stay and fight it,
you know. And I think it's because of all the stuff that the council's done, like educating
everyone as to how to prepare and that you can survive it, sort of thing.

BEN KNIGHT: Rob MacKenzie and his neighbours got through last night when the high winds that were
forecast didn't happen. And with milder conditions today, they can continue cleaning up. But if
they're going to save their homes they'll face plenty more days and nights like these.

ROB MACKENZIE: We'll fight as much as we've got until we've got no more water. And then if we run
out of water and it's on fire, then we'll be walking away.

BEN KNIGHT: Local firefighters aren't surprised that many have decided to stay.

ANDREW DWYER, JAMIESON CFA: A number of local people have decided to stay with their houses because
they're bush people. They've lived in the bush all their lives and they know what they're doing.
When times get tough people get together and help each other out.

HEATHER EWART: That report from Ben Knight.

(c) 2006 ABC