Residents of southern Morwell in Victoria are calling on the government to immediately evacuate the town as toxic smoke from the fire at nearby Hazelwood coal mine continues to blanket the community.
Speaking to the ABC, local resident, Lisa Dourley said, “What is it going to take for you in order to recommend the evacuation of Morwell? Is it a death? Is it a terminal illness for someone?” local resident Lisa Dourley said.
“We know short-term what people are suffering – we don’t know what long-term effects are going to happen.”
Another resident said the need to evacuate Morwell was becoming urgent.
“I’m 25-years-old, yesterday I spent five minutes in the smoke outside, I could not see for one hour,” the resident said.
At a media conference on Friday, Victoria’s chief health officer, Dr Rosemary Lester, recommended people over 65, children under school age, pregnant women and anyone with a pre-existing heart or lung condition to consider leaving town temporarily.
The Department of Human Services is providing grants for people in the high risk group to move out of Morwell, while an extra 30 police officers have been called in to protect the homes and property of those who decide to evacuate.
Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley says he expects the conditions to improve slowly, but not before the end of the week.
“We still believe if everything progresses well the best-case scenario is another 10 days before that fire is to a position that it won’t put up significant smoke or ash over Morwell,” Lapsley told the ABC.
At Friday’s media conference, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, denied suggestions that the government’s reluctance to evacuate the town was primarily due to concerns over cost and liability.
“Let me make it very clear: the decisions we’re making as a government certainly are not affected by any indication of cost or liability,” he said.
“What we are primarily about is the wellbeing of the people of Morwell and also about putting out this fire.”