Conditions ease as Tasmanian crews battle bushfires

Conditions ease as Tasmanian crews battle bushfires

Conditions ease as Tasmanian crews battle bushfires

Updated 8 January 2013, 0:06 AEST

Easing conditions are expected to help Tasmanian crews gain the upper hand on bushfires burning around the state, meanwhile Prime Minister Julia Gillard tours the devastated township of Dunalley.

Easing conditions have offered some much-needed respite to crews fighting more than 40 bushfires around Tasmania.

The fire at Montumana in the north-west is no longer posing a threat to communities, while a blaze at Bicheno on the east coast has been downgraded to advice level.

However, two other bushfires at Lake Repulse in the Upper Derwent Valley and Forcett on the Tasman Peninsula are causing concern.

While no longer directly threatened by the fire, residents in Mawbanna, Sisters Beach and Rocky Cape have been told to remain alert.

A refuge has been set up in nearby Stanley.

Bushfire information:

Spokesman Andrew McGuinness says people should only leave if the way is safe.

Mr McGuinness says firefighters are working on containment lines, but the hot and windy conditions mean the situation can change quickly for crews.

Backburning is continuing around fires in other parts of the state, including Epping Forest in the Northern Midlands, Lake Repulse in the Derwent Valley, and on the Tasman Peninsula.

The most destructive of the fires devastated the township of Dunalley on the Tasman Peninsula on Friday.

On Monday police started escorting about 100 car loads of people who have been stranded by the fire, which destroyed around 100 homes.

Food supplies are also on their way to the area, which was cut off from the rest of the state by the blaze.

On Sunday, police said about 100 people were listed as missing, but that number is being reduced as people are found safe.

Police have done preliminary searches of almost 250 burnt-out properties in the worst-hit areas on the Tasman Peninsula and say no bodies have been found.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard toured the Tasman peninsula yesterday, visiting communities hardest hit by the bushfires.

Ms Gillard arrived in the devastated area on Monday afternoon in a convoy that included Red Cross teams, trucks carrying food, police and media vehicles.

On the way into Dunalley, Ms Gillard's convoy drove past charred fields and the remains of farm houses.

Ms Gillard says she has been struck by the random nature of the destruction.

"There is just so much cruelty and luck and fate as to what happens," she said.

The Prime Minister also toured the primary school of Dunalley, which was wiped out by the blaze.

Tasmania Police Acting Commissioner Scott Tilyard says the fire, which began in the Forcett area before spreading to Dunalley, is believed to have started accidentally.

He says a stump caught fire about a week ago but was thought to have been extinguished.

It now appears there might have been a root system underground that was still burning.

About $350,000 has been raised by the Red Cross for bushfire victims in the past day, while the Salvation Army has also launched a disaster relief fund.

Hundreds of insurance claims totalling $26 million have already been placed for the loss of homes, businesses, vehicles and holiday shacks.

The Insurance Council of Australia has staff at fire recovery centres in Hobart and Sorell to answer questions.

Spokesman Campbell Fuller says victims want assurances they are covered.

"In most cases bushfire is covered by a normal home and contents policy, so if they have insurance they would be covered," he said.

"The extent to which they're covered of course is going to be an issue because it depends on the sum insured."

Speaking in Hobart on Monday morning, Ms Gillard said the Federal Government had triggered emergency payments to help families in the disaster.

"I've come to Tasmania for one purpose, and that's to say to the people of Tasmania that the nation is standing with them at this very, very difficult time," she said.

"We'll be standing with them in every way. Indeed, I've already met today Victorians and people from New South Wales who have come to work in support of their friends in Tasmania as Tasmania continues to fight these fires.

"I've met Victorians here who were assisted by Tasmanians when Victoria faced the 2009 devastating bushfires. They feel like they're returning a favour. I think they're showing great Australian mateship at what is an incredibly difficult time."

As of Monday night, three "watch-and-act" alerts were active for the huge Forcett fire and at Lake Repulse and Montumana.

The Lake Repulse bushfire is now due east of Ellendale.

Police investigating that fire say they will charge a man for leaving a campfire unattended.

A blaze at Epping Forest in the Northern Midlands has also been upgraded to a watch-and-act status, while a fire burning at Bicheno has been downgraded from a watch-and-act to an advice warning level.

Locals are urged to check their bushfire plans and stay informed in case conditions change.

A state-wide total fire ban will continue on Tuesday.

Map: Tasman Peninsula bushfires

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