The air quality has dramatically dropped, so much so that visibility was down to less than one kilometre as this article was being written.
On Tuesday, Victorians awoke to the “worst air quality in the world” caused by the smoke coming from fires in East Gippsland and across NSW.
Melbourne recorded dangerous levels of fine particles in the atmosphere and the air quality has since dropped to “very poor to hazardous” on the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) scale.
On Wednesday, at the time of publication, the EPA had rated the air quality as “hazardous” in Melbourne, Geelong, the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland.
Meanwhile, authorities paid tribute to the fifth victim of the Victorian bushfire crisis on Wednesday morning.
David Moresi, 69, was a contractor working at the Gelantipy fire when he died as a result of a vehicle rollover on November 30 last year.
He was working with colleagues using bulldozers to create containment lines for the W Tree section of the fire.
He was flung from his vehicle during a rollover at the end of a shift and died at the scene.
Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) chief fire officer Chris Hardman described Moresi as “a pillar of the community” and a “dedicated educator”.
“He loved the bush, he inspired so many people to be in the great outdoors,” Hardman added.
Hardman said Moresi was an “inspirational human being” who had supported the building of schools overseas, including in Thailand.
FFMV employees Mat Kavanagh, 43, and Bill Slade, 60, were killed also while on the job this bushfire season.
Hardman said it had been “a very difficult year” for the organisation.
In the world of sport, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire from Australian Open qualifying in Melbourne after collapsing with a coughing fit caused by the smoke haze.
“Obviously this is not pollution: it’s smoke so it’s a bit different from what we are used to,” Jakupovic said.
“We play in other countries and cities that are polluted but this is smoke; it’s something that none of us have experienced before.
“We are all ... a bit disappointed because we thought they would take better care of us.”
The dense smoke also reduced visibility at the Melbourne Airport, so much so it was forced down to a single runway.
Strong winds contributed to the problem and dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed.
In Canberra, conditions were similar to Melbourne.
Advice from the ACT government was much the same: wear a face mask (preferably a P2 mask); use air conditioning at home and keep windows closed; and avoid being outdoors for long periods of time.
This applied particularly to those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
In recent days, the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s emergency room has seen a significantly higher number of patients come through its doors, with asthma and general respiratory problems being the main cause.
Rural areas were also choked by the smoke haze.
A Mildura resident explained that while the air quality in the area hasn’t been extremely bad, the smoke and ash have affected everyday activities.
“Yesterday morning I went for a run and I was only able to complete two-thirds of my normal route,” they said.
“It was partly because I went at midday when it was very hot, and partly because I couldn’t breathe due to the ash.”
The overall impact of the reduced air quality on people’s health is still uncertain.
President of the Australian Medical Association, Tony Bartone, told Il Globo that this is an unprecedented situation and there are no existing studies on the effects of prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke.
“I know that there are discussions in the Department of Health at the moment about looking at the long-term effects, and starting the research and collecting the data as we speak to advise us in the years to come, because obviously we’ve been caught off-guard on this occasion,” he said.
We can only hope that in the future we can be better prepared for a situation like the one we’ve experienced in recent days.
And we can only hope it’s not too late.