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Tasmania suffers fifth day of bushfires

Tasmania is suffering its fifth day of bush fires, which broke out on Thursday in the midst of a heat wave. One vineyard has lost three quarters of its plantings.

The Tasmania Fire Service downgraded two major fires, with calmer conditions bringing a much-needed reprieve for crews. However, worsening fire weather is expected later in the week.

Fires have isolated communities, hampering efforts to search effected areas. No deaths have been reported, though more than 100 buildings have been destroyed.

Sheralee Davies, CEO of Wine Tasmania, told Decanter.com ‘the severe bushfires have been a terrible start to the new year and the danger is not yet over, with fires still burning and concern about missing people.’

Davies is aware of two vineyards being affected: Yaxley Vineyard, which has lost three-quarters of its plantings, and Sugarloaf Ridge which has had some vines burnt.

Both have also suffered other damage to buildings, equipment, and water tanks. Yaxley was able to save a shed housing $AUS60,000 worth of wine.

‘It is fortunate that it is still early in the season, as fruit is only pea-size and best advice indicates smoke taint risk is highest at veraison. We are following up further advice and information to provide to growers in the coming days.’

Jeremy Dineen, winemaker at Josef Chromy Winery, said there had been no direct impact on his vines but said wineries in the Derwent Valley had made some enquiries about the possibility of acquiring fruit as ‘people are nervous about smoke-tainted grapes’.

Andrew Hanigan at Derwent Estate Wines, however, told Decanter.com that at the southern end of the valley there was little danger of grapes being affected by smoke.

‘I of course as a matter of QA will be sampling and checking my grapes for taint but do not believe it will be an issue at all as we are quite a long way away from the fire zone. The fire was further up the Derwent Valley and we are a long way south.’

Dineen expects that worst affected will be Bream Creek next to the damaged town of Dunalley, Cape Bernier, Meadowbank in the Derwent Valley, along with the aforementioned Yaxley.

Winemaker Andrew Pirie, formerly of Pipers Brook and Tamar Ridge, said the north of Tasmania had not been affected.

‘The pictured rainfall averages illustrate why the south is more prone to dry summer. The fire-affected areas tend this year to be in zones with less than 800mm average rain in the south and east of the state,’ he said.

On the mainland, Australian premier Julia Gillard has urged people to take all safety precautions as Southeast Australia continues to battle what firefighters are describing as the worst-ever bushfires, with more than 100 fires raging across the region, of which 20 are deemed to be out of control, according to reports.

Written by David Furer, and Adam Lechmere

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