Government inquiry into Hazelwood coal mine fire

The Victorian Government says it will hold an inquiry into the Hazelwood coal mine fire as reports emerge that an evacuation of the town may be called.

Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the causes and effects of the fire need to be investigated as fire fighters continue to fight the blaze which has been burning for close to three weeks.

‘‘We need to get to the bottom of why it has developed in the first place and all the contributing factors to it and we need to learn from this,’’ Ryan said.

‘‘I have no doubt inquiries will be conducted in great detail by respective agencies to make sure we get to the bottom of all of this.’’

The comments come as reports emerge the government may be close to ordering an evacuation of Morwell South, as smoke and ash drifting over the town intensifies.

The Australian reports the sick and elderly will be asked to leave as mounting levels of carbon monoxide are detected.

Residents say they are suffering from chest infections and nose bleeds as the smoke shows no signs of letting up.

The EPA’s air quality index for Morwell South, adjacent to the mine, was 1113 between 11- 12 noon yesterday. Anything more than 150+ is considered '' very poor''.

This is also more than twice the level of Shanghai’s worst smog which came in at 500.

More than 500 people have attended health checks at the town’s assessment centre, with officials saying more than 60 residents came to the centre on Thursday morning alone with symptoms such as dizziness and shortness of breath.

Victoria's chief health officer Rosemary Lester said agencies were seeking international expert advice on the long-term health effects of exposure to carbon dioxide and smoke.

‘‘We won’t hesitate to escalate our message if we think that’s necessary," Lester said.

Authorities have advised people to stay  indoors and take a break from the hazy conditions.

The Department of Human Services said around 150 Morwell households had been given financial assistance to help them escape the smoke, using the money for short-term accommodation, V/Line and bus tickets and petrol.

"This is all about taking a short break, getting respite," it said.

While Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has asked people to offer up their holidays homes in order to give the smoke- affected residents respite from the smoke.

He said he would be happy to give up his holiday home in Port Fairy and said Victorians who were not planning on using holiday houses should do the same with the government looking to establish as formal register.

Residents have criticised the Napthine government for not evacuating the town and are planning to protest on Sunday.

"We are told to leave by governing bodies, but were given no real assistance to do so," a Facebook page for the protest said.

"We demand the government stop ignoring us and give us real options for our future, our health and our families."

It is expected more than 600 residents will gather to discuss their health concerns.

More than 200 fire fighters are working around the clock to battle the blaze.

For more information on the Hazelwood open cut mine fire:

Image: weeklytime.com.au

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