A footy team has been caught up in a dramatic mountain rescue after becoming stranded by a fast-moving bushfire in Victoria's north-east.
The Gippsland Power football team had been hiking on Mt Feathertop as part of a pre-season training camp when they came within a few kilometres of a raging bushfire and were forced to evacuate.
A rescue helicopter was called in to pluck the 36 players, staff and two backpackers to safety yesterday afternoon.
Senior coach Nick Stevens told Seven News the team were on the 22-kilometre Razorback Trail up on the mountain when they came across the blaze and a thick plume of smoke.
The team alerted emergency services who quickly located them and airlifted them to safety.
"By the time the last chopper came out it came in pretty close," he said.
"I could see the look on the pilot's face. He looked pretty keen to get out of there so that was enough for me.
"I'm just thankful that everyone got out of there safely."
Bushfire threat to grow
A bushfire that destroyed homes and bushland could again threaten a number of communities in Victoria's east on Thursday as firefighters brace for a scorcher.
Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley says firefighters are strengthening containment lines around the massive Gippsland fire burning about 200km east of Melbourne.
Temperatures are predicted to reach 37C in Melbourne and between 35 and 37C in bushfire-affected areas in Victoria's east on Thursday, with northerly winds adding to the difficult conditions.
"There's been significant control lines put in to make sure we're ready for tomorrow," Mr Lapsley told Fairfax radio on Wednesday.
"If that fire was to come out, it could come out in a number of spots which will threaten a number of different communities including Toongabbie, across to Heyfield again (and) Coongulla."
In preparation for the hot weather predicted for Thursday, meetings have been held in local communities, with fire brigades active on the ground, Mr Lapsley said.
Mr Lapsley urged locals to make an early decision on whether to leave or stay and defend their properties.
"History has told us if you leave late a lot of people are challenged on the roads, life has been lost," Mr Lapsley said.
"If you have that fire threat and you know it's only up the road and you know it's got that potential to come out, we always say leave early."
Firefighters are also working on a separate fire in bushland in the state's northeast, which prompted the evacuation by helicopter of hikers bushwalking in Victoria's Mt Feathertop on Tuesday.
"That in itself is a fire of significance that we're watching," Mr Lapsley said.
"It could end up being quite a large fire."
"At the moment it's reasonable but on the same token it has a huge potential to do a lot of damage."
The fire is travelling in a south-easterly direction and may impact the towns of Davenport Village, Falls Creek, Hotham Heights, Harrietville and Smoko within the next 24 hours.