It’s taken 40 days but the Victorian coalmine fire that smoked out a nearby town is just about over.
The northern walls of the Hazelwood open-cut mine, the critical area of the fire closest to Morwell, are now safe.
But firefighters warned some hot spots could develop into bigger fires if they weren’t contained.
Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the northern fire had put most of the smoke and ash over the town.
“This is excellent progress and has been achieved by firefighters working 24 hours a day for over five weeks to finally secure the northern batters,” Mr Lapsley said on Friday.
Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said possible breaches of fire safety laws at the mine would be examined in an independent inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice Bernard Teague.
He will be supported by Professor John Catford, a former Victorian chief health officer, and Sonia Petering, a corporate lawyer and chairwoman of the Rural Finance Corporation of Victoria.
Mr Ryan said he expected the board would “extensively” examine mine owner GDF Suez as well as the government’s response to the blaze.
“I think it’s very important we go into this inquiry on a basis that anything and everything ought properly be on the table and those issues I’m sure will be the subject of close examination,” he told reporters on Friday.
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the inquiry’s hearings needed to be open to the public so people could have confidence in the final report.
Control of the 1.5km northern area of the mine has been handed back to GDF Suez, but fire services will continue to work on other sections until they are deemed safe.
Firefighters have also checked a fire dubbed “Old Faithful” that’s been smouldering in an area of the mine for years, possibly since 1977.
Mr Lapsley said the “fire scar” will continue to be managed by GDF Suez by using a clay cap to block its oxygen supply.
The Hazelwood mine fire began on February 9 when a deliberately lit fire spotted into the mine.
It was brought under control on March 10.