Dirty air moves in

LARGE parts of Wellington Shire had a taste of burnt coal on Wednesday as winds carried airborne particles from the Hazelwood mine fire into the area.

People in Sale and surrounding areas reported a fog-like atmosphere with a strong smell of burning coal, some also reporting a black residue when drizzle fell later in the day.

Most kept doors and windows closed to keep out the odours.

Information points will be set up locally on Friday at the Cowwarr General Store from noon to 1pm, Rosedale’s Prince Street Reserve from 3pm to 4pm, Toongabbie Mechanics Institute at 5.30pm and Glengarry Community Hall (across the road from the fire station), 7.30pm.

The Victorian Department of Human Services has also opened a community respite centre in the Latrobe Valley, where residents can seek temporary respite from the smoky conditions caused by the Morwell open-cut fire.

The centre is operating in the Moe Town Hall, Albert St, Moe and opening and closing times may vary over coming days, depending on demand.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Rosemary Lester said excessive smoke levels could aggravate existing heart or lung conditions, and also cause people to experience irritated eyes, coughing or wheezing.

“Children, the elderly, pregnant women, smokers and those with heart or lung conditions, including asthma are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in fine particles,” she said.

“Everyone should avoid prolonged or heavy physical activity and keep informed about fire activity in their immediate area.

“In extended, very smoky local conditions, sensitive individuals should consider temporarily staying with a friend or relative living outside the smoke-affected area.

“Others should also consider a break away from the smoky conditions if practical.

“Anyone with a heart or lung condition should take their medication as prescribed by their doctor. People with asthma should follow their asthma management plan.”

The mine fire is expected to continue for at least another two weeks, and the Country Fire Authority has ruled out flooding the mine to extinguish the fire.

CFA officials have said flooding the mine would halt production and shut down the Hazelwood Power Station.

The strategy was to protect critical infrastructure for power generation so that power supply for the state would be maintained.