Bushfires destroy one of Victoria's biggest holiday destinations

The Great Ocean Road fire on Christmas night. Photo: Keith Pakenham/CFA

A Christmas Day bushfire on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road has destroyed at least 53 homes in the seaside holiday towns of Separation Creek and Wye River.

Country Fire Authority has emergency warnings for Kennett River, Grey River, Wye River and Separation Creek as 500 firefighters battled the blaze, which extends through the Otways and has burnt out more than 2000 hectares.

Overnight rain has eased the severity of the fire, which continues to burn out of control, but Lorne is no longer being evacuated and the road, which was closed overnight, has been reopened. A number of roads in the area remain closed.

The CFA confirmed 35 homes were lost in Wye River, and 18 at Separation Creek on Christmas Day.

It was a traumatic Christmas for many people, with the entire town of Lorne forced to evacuate for Torquay, where more than 30 relief spent the night at a relief centre set up in the surf town. Another relief centres is operating in Apollo Bay.

People planning to head to the popular summer holiday region are being urged to delay their plans until the situation is under control.

Christmas Day on the Great Ocean Road. Photo: Keith Pakenham/CFA

Organisers are still considering whether the sold out, annual Falls Festival in Lorne, due to begin on Monday, December 28, will go ahead. The four-day event, which attracts around 17,000 people, may be cancelled by authorities if conditions are too dangerous.

The fire in the heavily forested and mountainous Otway region started a week ago, before hot and windy conditions saw the blaze escalate.

CFA officials said the overnight rain has brought temporary relief, but they are expecting hot, dry and windy conditions in the days ahead, meaning dangerous conditions continue.

Wind direction and speed will be the critical issue for the fires along the Great Ocean Road in the days ahead.

There have been no reported fatalities or injuries.

Metropolitan Fire Brigade officials have now moved in to assess the properties that have been razed or damaged and inform the owners.

Here are some of the images from people currently staying down in the region.

#HolySmoke #BeachHouseInTrouble #RunDipEvacuate #MerryChristmas ?? @rnbuchanan

A photo posted by sal_buchanan (@sal_buchanan) on

Victoria Police officers visited homes in Lorne overnight, urging residents to evacuate the town.

Surf Coast Shire CEO Keith Bailey said almost 100 people sought refuge at Torquay on Friday and 31 spent the night.

“There could be more, but we need to wait [for] our rapid impact teams to evaluate the area. We won’t know of any further losses until we get in and have a good look around.”

Mr Rau said the efforts had been helped by overnight rain, but the difficult terrain had made it hard.

Residents affected by fire sleep out with their horses in Lorne, Victoria
PHOTO: Locals affected by fire slept out in the main street of Lorne. (AAP: Julian Smith)
“The fire was being pushed down by northerly wind, and then it swung round to a south-westerly, so what that meant was it got very close to Kennett River and there would have been some embers into Kennett River, but it got pulled up short of that with the firefighters and also the help of the cool change.

“It moved it back towards Lorne and unfortunately Wye River, which had been impacted already, then had this fire coming back towards it.

“It’s very, very hilly and heavily treed. It’s a difficult to get into and really difficult terrain for firefighters to operate out of.

“Getting firefighters in for asset protection has been very challenging.”

The CFA said there was reduced fire danger in the coming days but it would build back up closer to New Year’s Eve.

Holidaymakers asked to reconsider plans

Yellow haze from Great Ocean Road fire
PHOTO: The fire burning along the Great Ocean Road on Christmas night. (Twitter: Keith Pakenham)
Today marks the start of the annual pilgrimage to the popular tourist region, as thousands of holidaymakers head to the surf coast for the New Year period.

But authorities have asked people to avoid travelling along the Great Ocean Road this weekend if possible.

Organisers of the Falls Music and Arts Festival, which is held just outside of Lorne from December 28 to January 1, said it was unclear if the event would go ahead.

The road remains closed to tourists between Bellbrae, just to the west of Torquay, and Lorne.

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