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Victoria launches bushfire inquiry as Melbourne chokes on smoke

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A $2.55 million inquiry will be held into Victoria’s deadly bushfires, which are still burning and sending a thick blanket of smoke across much of the state.

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The review will be run by inspectorate general of emergency management Tony Pearce.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the response to this summer’s fires had already been influenced by the royal commission into the fatal 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

But these fires have started early in the season and so Pearce has been tasked with examining the state’s preparedness and response so far, with the first report due in the middle of 2020, ahead of the next fire season.

The final report is due in the middle of 2021.

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepares to take a proposal for a bushfire royal commission to federal cabinet, Andrews questioned what it would examine.

“It’s unclear to me … whether this would be an inquiry into how the national effort can be as best coordinated as possible, or whether it’s an inquiry into the event more broadly,” Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.

The Victorian inquiry announcement comes as thick, hazardous smoke from the bushfires in NSW, and Victoria’s northeast and East Gippsland spreads across much of the state.

The CBD recorded hazardous levels of fine particles in the air from 12am to 4am and has since been categorised as very poor by the Environmental Protection Authority.

Air quality forecasts for Geelong, Latrobe Valley, Melbourne, central region, all of Gippsland and the north central region are all listed as hazardous for Tuesday by the EPA.

The air will be very poor in the northeast and poor in the northern country.

Firefighters have spent the night being called out to fire alarms triggered by the smoke haze.

The MFB told radio station 3AW on a normal night crews would attend about 20 false alarms, but overnight they were called out to about 200, but each had to be treated as a potential fire.

Those with heart and respiratory issues are being told to keep out of the smoke, but even healthy people are being warned to stay inside.

The fires burning through Victoria’s east and northeast have claimed four men’s lives, 353 homes and 548 other structures.

Sixteen fires are still burning and 1.4 million hectares has been destroyed across the state.

Slightly calmer weather forecast is allowing firefighters to try to build containment lines, while military personnel are working to make isolated towns accessible by road.

-AAP

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