How popular holiday spot has descended into deserted 'ghost town'

Australian Associated Press

Businesses in Victoria's northeast are grappling with a lack of visitors in what is typically one of their busiest times of the year, as the region braces for a spike in bushfire conditions on Friday.

There were 23 blazes raging across Victoria on Thursday afternoon, predominantly in the northeast, northern country and East Gippsland.

A fresh emergency warning – the highest alert level – was also issued on Thursday for one of the northeastern fires, burning 8km from Abbeyard.

Property flattened in bushfire that burned through Bruthen South in East Gippsland, Victoria.
Remains of a burnt-out property that was impacted by a blaze in late December is seen at Bruthen South in East Gippsland, Victoria. Source: AAP

The warning comes as the Bureau of Meteorology has issued an extreme fire danger warning for the north of the state on Friday, with a severe warning for the Mallee and northeast districts.

Temperatures are forecast to reach 40C in some areas.

Mayor of the Bright-based Alpine Shire Council Peter Roper says there's no doubt Friday will be a "bad day", but it's unclear what that will mean.

"It really is a wait and see. We don't know what's going to happen, we don't know how catastrophic it's going to be," the councillor told AAP.

People celebrating at festival in Victorian alpine region before it was transformed into ghost town after bushfire.
Crowds gather for the Wandiligong Nut Festival held annually near Bright. Source: Google Maps/Mahdi Dehghan

Tourists steer clear of region due to bushfires

Mr Roper is certain that local businesses who usually make a large chunk of their annual income in the summer are being challenged as tourists steer clear of the region, in line with safety advice.

"A lot of our businesses are geared around tourism," he said.

Bright Brewery Operations Manager Rupert Shaw said his business is among those to have felt the pinch, describing Bright as a "ghost town" as fires burn about 10km away.

"The town is still empty. The only people around in the area in Bright and the surrounds are local people, and not everyone returned (after evacuating)," he said.

Fire burning from mountain near Bright, which turned the Victorian Alpine Region into a ghost town.
Locals stop to watch smoke rising from a bushfire burning up the hill about 8kms away from Bright. Source: AAP

He believes local full-time staff may be forced to go part-time, while casuals could be dropped, if the situation rolls on for some time.

"We just don't know what's going to happen," Mr Shaw said.

No tourists visiting the pub

Bar manager of the Happy Valley Hotel in nearby Ovens, Nick Waight, said only locals are coming into their pub too.

But they will not evacuate until an emergency service worker knocks on their door asking them to do so.

Burnt trees from mountains destroyed by bushfire in the Mount Buffalo area in Victoria.
The Mount Buffalo area in Victoria with large areas singed by bushfire. Source: AAP

"I'm a stubborn son of a b****, unless I've got flames lapping at the fence or the door ... it's just business as usual, because people need to stop and have a drink or a feed. The firies need to eat," he said.

Over in the northern country's Echuca, the tourists are still visiting, according to Campaspe Shire Council Mayor Adrian Weston.

The region has been spared from fires so far, but with extreme fire conditions forecast for Friday, everybody is feeling vigilant.

"Fires can start anywhere at any time ... we're certainly not complacent, that's for sure," he said.

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