VIDEO: 'Freak wind' to blame for Mt Hotham blaze

Firefighters have scotched claims they were too slow off the mark in fighting a bushfire that threatened Victoria's Mount Hotham ski resort.

Angry residents in the nearby upper Ovens Valley told Fairfax last week not enough resources were thrown at the fire early on Tuesday, only hours before it jumped containment lines — threatening the town and Mount Hotham alpine resort for the rest of the week.

The more than 5000ha fire was still burning yesterday in steep, inaccessible terrain surrounding Harrietville, but temperatures below 10 degrees and light rain have assisted fire crews battling the blaze.

Up to 50 Mount Hotham Resort staff were under siege from the fire overnight.

They were on high alert for spot fires that were jumping 500 metres ahead of the firefront.

“It took 15-20 minutes and all of a sudden there was a fire on the major ski run,” Jackfrost bar owner Adam Ashley said last night.

North East land and fire manager for the Sustainability Department Shaun Lawlor said freak wind rather than a lack of firefighters had allowed the fire to jump containment lines.

The department said the fire was considered contained on the Tuesday morning after a lightning strike on the Monday afternoon.

“The fire was reported to DSE by the Mount Porepunkah Fire Tower at 2.27pm on Monday, January 21,” Mr Lawlor said.

“The first crew was sent about 3pm. Local CFA resources were also dispatched.

“Crews remained on the fire ground until 9.30pm on Monday, working on fire suppression and control lines with the support of the water-bombing aircraft until last light.

“Crews departed the fire ground at dark when it was no longer safe to work because of the steep rocky terrain, presence of un-marked mine shafts, and hazardous fire-affected trees.

“The fire was considered contained.

“Crews resumed work about 7.30am on Tuesday with aircraft also re-commencing operations to assist ground crews. The fire remained contained at this time.

“At about 2pm, strong winds funnelling up the valley blew embers and flames across the containment lines into heavy fuels.

“It quickly intensified beyond the capacity of ground crews and aircraft.”

Fairfax understands a second water bombing helicopter was being refuelled when the wind hit.

Mr Lawlor also denied there would be any specific investigation into the fire outbreak that Tuesday afternoon.

“DSE has a defined process for debriefing fire incidents at the local, regional and state level,” he said.

DSE has also denied a fire truck “got lost on the way to the fire” and another broke down on Tuesday morning.

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