The Buninyong bushfire is not yet under control but the rate of its spread has slowed down significantly. Wind gusts and scorching temperatures have encouraged the spread of the inferno. Temperatures are in the 30s and wind gusts in the south of Australia are at about 20km/h, but a weather bureau spokesman said the winds should settle into the evening.

CFA Incident Controller Gavin Hope said: “It did move very quickly.

“That forest area is really dry with a bit warmth and some wind it just shows you how it doesn’t take much for fires to start going in the type of season that we’ve got.”

Residents in Buninyong and Scotsburn were warned it was too late to leave as the fast-moving bushfire threatened homes and lives.

However the serious warning was downgraded to a watch-and-act before 7pm (AEDT local time) but authorities said it was safest for residents to remain close to a building they can shelter in, warning conditions can change suddenly.

How far are evacuation zones?

Dozens of residents near the Buninyong fire have been evacuated, with the fire spreading to 40 hectares.

Initially an emergency warning was issued for Buninyong and Scotsburn, south of Ballarat, on Thursday afternoon.

But this was reduced to the Watch and Act warning which is in place for Durham Lead, Grenville and Scotsburn.

Victoria Emergency said in its warning message: “There is a bushfire in the vicinity of Scott’s Land and Nash’s Road, Scotsburn and it is now contained.

“Although the fire is contained the warning level will remain at Watch and Act because of the veto high fire danger rating forecast for tomorrow and continued local road closures.”

A relief centre has been set up at the Buningyong Leisure Centre and was closing at 10pm AEDT on Thursday (local time).

But the advice is to stay as close to a building you can shelter in is the safest options as conditions can change suddenly.

Anne Bonighton is general manager at Galwiji Homestead, a holiday rental property which is less than two kilometres away from the fire.

She said she saw thick, black smoke billowing in the air.

Ms Bonighton said: “There’s a lot of traffic in Buninyong at the moment. I’m waiting for some extra news. I can see helicopters, a couple of planes, lots of fire trucks have gone past.”

She added: “It’s a little bit stressful, and I’m very concerned for other residents in the area, especially the ones who lost properties in the fires in 2015.”

Bushfires have come earlier this season as the first total fire ban was announced almost two weeks earlier than in any previous years.

The total fire bans have been declared on Friday in Victoria’s north and north-west amid a scorching start to summer, with the mercury set to rise above 40 degrees in some regional centres.

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