Smoke from Hazelwood coal mine fire forces local protest

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has asked people to offer up their holidays homes in order to give the smoke- affected residents of Morwell respite from the Hazelwood coal mine fire.

Talking to radio station 3AW Napthine said he would be happy to offer up his Port Fairy home to a family from the Morwell area as smoke from the coal mine fire continues to choke the town.

"I'd be happy to have a family come down to Port Fairy for a week if they wanted,” Napthine said.

He said Victorians who were not planning on using holiday houses should do the same with the government looking to establish as formal register, The Age reported.

"People who've got holiday houses, particularly in Gippsland that are empty now because it's not school holidays, could say, 'my house will be available for a couple of days for a family to have a bit of a break'," he said.

"I would urge all Victorians, including members of parliament, to make their house available."

The comments come as the fire at Hazelwood coal mine burns into its third week, sending ash and smoke drifting over the Morwell community.

The EPA’s air quality index for Morwell South, adjacent to the mine, was 1113 between 11- 12 noon today. 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.

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

Many are calling for the evacuation of the town as fears mount around the long-term risks associated with prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide from the smoke.

However Victoria's chief health officer Rosemary Lester said while an evacuation plan had been created, moving the 13,000 residents out of the town was not necessary at this stage.

Lester said the department was working with the Environmental Protection Authority to monitor air quality, which was "poor" but not dangerous.

"We are constantly monitoring that and we haven't gone anywhere near what we would regard a level to trigger talk about evacuation,” she said.

"We don't believe there's a necessity to evacuate; we are saying to people if you can get out of town for a short period of time that's fine.”

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.

A respite centre has been set up at the Moe Town Hall while more than 25,000 masks have been made available to local residents.

However 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.

Meanwhile Victoria's Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said windy and hot conditions next week could hamper fire fighting efforts.

He said without heavy rain, the fire could burn for months, ABC reported.

"It's got the potential to do that (burn for months). The best case scenario is 14 days," he said.

"Let's be realistic… We're putting the resources in, the work plan is there to get a 14-day containment strategy around it."

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

Lapsley said getting the right the mix of fire suppression methods was vital.

“The fact is that as we put water in, we potentially erode parts of it,” he said.

“That’s a key consideration for our people. We do not want a landslide in that mine.”

For more information on the Hazelwood open cut mine fire:

Image: Keith Pakenham

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