Thousands of people are being told to take shelter as raging bushfires intensify in East Gippsland, where locals and tourists became trapped after ignoring warnings to flee.
Fourteen fires are burning across the region and 11 emergency alerts remained in place for out-of-control blazes in Victoria’s far east and north-east as of early Tuesday morning.
Conditions are set to worsen as a dangerous cool change producing powerful winds moves across the state.
Temperatures are forecast to drop to the mid-20s, and high-speed winds are expected to push fires in a north-easterly direction, putting areas towards the coast – including Bruthen and Lakes Entrance – at risk.
East Gippsland continues to be threatened by raging bushfires with conditions set to worsen as a cool change producing powerful winds moves across the state. A helicopter dumps water on a fire in the Gippsland region on Sunday
Footage shared on social media showed a Buchan resident surrounded by encroaching bushfires and thick smoke on all sides
More than 30,000 people were told to evacuate Victoria state’s popular East Gippsland region on Sunday amid fears soaring temperatures and gusting winds would stoke three large blazes, cutting off the last major road still open
The East Gippsland region remains on high alert as of early Tuesday. Emergency alerts were issued in Bruthen, Lake Entrance, Nowa Nowa and surrounding areas late Monday. An evacuation alert was also issued for residents in Walwa as a large uncontrolled fire from the NSW border crossed into Victoria
Buchan local Greg Brick told 3AW Radio his town was surrounded by flames.
‘We’re seeing a lot of smoke at the moment, there’s a large fire to the south of us, then there’s two large plumes of smoke coming to the north of us,’ he said on Monday.
‘There’s a fire that’s blowing out towards the east towards the Snowy River. We’re just about surrounded.’
The Princes Highway has been closed in both directions between Bairnsdale and Genoa due to increased fire activity.
Access to the Princes Highway towards Eden, NSW from Mallacoota and Genoa is also now closed.
The Great Alpine Road between Bruthen and Ensay could be shut for up to a fortnight.
More than 70 new fires were ignited in Victoria on Monday, and more than 20 of those are still ongoing, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
‘It is unpredictable, it’s dangerous out there. A fire that started mid afternoon moved about 24 km within four or five hours as the wind changed direction,’ he said.
‘It put up a column, punching into the atmosphere 14km high. These columns are generating their own weather. There’s lightning coming out of these columns.
This extraordinary picture was snapped in the East Gippsland town of Bairnsdale late on Monday night
Fires raging across East Gippsland could be seen in day and night photos taken from Raymond Island
A severe weather warning was issued late Monday for East Gippsland and parts of the North East district, for damaging and locally destructive winds that can change the direction of the blazes
Large plumes of smoke were seen billowing from the area on Monday
Firefighters tackling a blaze in Gippsland. Catastrophic fire conditions were forecast for Monday, leading Victorian authorities to warn holiday makers to evacuate immediately
‘People need to stay tuned to their local conditions and stay across that information so they can make good decisions.’
- Bairnsdale City Oval: MacArthur Street, Bairnsdale
- Sale Showgrounds: 1 Maffra-Sale Rd, Sale
- FULL – Cann River Community Centre: 13 Princes Highway, Cann River
- FULL – Orbost Community Sports Centre: 40 Arnold Street, Orbost
- Omeo Recreation Reserve: Park Street, Omeo
- East Gippsland Shire Council’s customer service centre: 18 Mechanics Street, Lakes Entrance
- Delegate Country Club: 3074 Delegate Rd, Delegate, NSW
- The Bairnsdale Library on Service Street and the East Gippsland Shire Council’s customer service centre on Orbost at 1 Ruskin Street are open for heat relief.
Source: East Gippsland Shire Council on Monday
Emergency services warned residents and holiday-makers on Sunday to leave East Gippsland, where two out-of-control bushfires merged early on Monday morning.
This message shifted as roads closed and changing conditions sparked new fires.
‘The highly recommended strategy is – do not be on the roads. It is too dangerous to be driving,’ police minister Lisa Neville said on Monday.
‘Not only just from smoke, but because of the erratic nature and the fast-moving nature of these fires in East Gippsland.’
Earlier, residents in Ramrod Creek had been warned to get to safety as a bushfire north of Bruthen, near the Tambo River in East Gippsland, burned out of control.
Bruthen Fire Brigade Captain James Nicholas said town perimeter defences were breached by fires on Monday night, and warned residents to have their firefighting emergency plans in place.
‘Crews working hard to contain multiple fire events. Be prepared to conduct personal fire fighting activities in defence of your property and loved ones,’ he said in a Facebook post.
‘Multiple crews in area assisting where possible. Keep safe all. And well see you on the flip side.’
An evacuation alert was also issued for residents in Walwa as a large uncontrolled fire from the NSW border crossed into Victoria and towards Walwa, Guys Creek, Cudgewa, Burrowa Pine National Park.
Residents of Lake Entrance, Nowa Nowa and surrounding areas were advised to find safety as it is now too late to leave.
Victoria on fire: An out-of-control bushfire is threatening lives and homes in Melbourne’s suburbs
A Skycrane drops water on a bushfire in scrub behind houses in Bundoora on Monday afternoon
Footage taken from an aerial view shows fires encroaching on a properties in Bundoora. Many have evacuated while others are being forced to take shelter because it’s too late to leave
An emergency warning also remained for a fire threatening the north-eastern Melbourne suburbs of Bundoora, Greensborough and Mill Park.
The weather conditions on Monday lived up to its forecast of severe conditions, with temperatures in the high 30s to low-to-mid 40s across most of Victoria.
East Gippsland’s Bairnsdale registered 42.7C and the temperature hit between 40C and 44C around Melbourne.
There were also windy conditions and dry lightning, which sparked new blazes across the state.
The weather change was forecast to hit East Gippsland around midnight and push temperatures lower as it moves through.
‘For the whole night in eastern Gippsland we’re going to have unstable conditions, we’re going to have the fires, and the change moving through,’ Bureau of Meteorology Victoria State Manager Andrew Tupper said.
‘Of course, when a wind change hits fires, then that can also greatly aggravate the spread of those fires. To complicate things even further, there is a little bit of rain with the storms.’
Commissioner Crisp said there were no confirmed reports of property loss at this stage.
An evacuation alert was put in place for the Bundoora fire before residents were told it was too late to leave.
Ambulance Victoria said that two people have been treated at the scene for non-life threatening injuries.
Organisers of New Year’s Eve events across East Gippsland cancelled fireworks, but not other festivities, at Nicholson River, Metung, Paynesville foreshore and Lakes Entrance.
The hot, windy conditions in Melbourne also prompted the closure of the Werribee Open Range Zoo.
Swathes of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania remain under threat.
NEW SOUTH WALES
In NSW, a fire-generated thunderstorm (pyro-cumulonimbus) has formed over the Badja Forest Road and Tuross Falls Road fires, northwest of Cobargo.
A pyro-cumulonimbus can create erratic winds and dry lightning and result in significantly faster fire spread.
Across NSW, more than 900 homes have been destroyed but that number is expected to increase with rising temperatures and dry winds forecast to peak on New Year’s Eve.
Burnt trees from a recent bushfire line a road located on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 29
The RFS on Monday afternoon confirmed a firefighter died battling blazes after the truck rolled
Temperatures are forecast to climb past 40C in western Sydney and parts of regional NSW by Tuesday, as air pollution in the city’s southwest remains at a hazardous level.
One volunteer firefighter has been killed and two other members of the crew injured after their truck rolled on Monday.
The volunteer was travelling through Jingelling after a shift battling blazes in Green Valley, about 70km east of Albury on the border of NSW and Victoria.
The crew were caught up in the extreme wind and weather conditions which authorities predicted would arrive on Monday.
Strong winds are believed to have rolled the truck, killing one person who was inside and injuring another two.
The crew are believed to be from the local area. The two other victims suffered burns to their bodies during the tragic incident.
A statement from the NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed a second truck was also involved in the incident.
‘A second vehicle working in the same area was also blown over and the firefighter on board has been transported to hospital,’ the statement read.
‘The Service’s thoughts are with all the firefighter’s families, friends and fellow brigade members.’
The volunteer’s death takes the toll to 10 for Australia’s most recent bushfire season.
In South Australia, fires continue to burn on Kangaroo Island and a catastrophic danger has been declared for the Adelaide Metropolitan, Yorke Peninsula, Mount Lofty Ranges and the state’s Mid North.
Adelaide is forecast to reach 40C and firefighters are particularly worried about the potential for breakouts in the blaze burning in the Adelaide Hills.
Severe thunderstorm warnings have also been issued for parts of the South Australian coast, adding to the risk of bushfires from lightning strikes.
Hobart sweltered through what appeared to be the city’s hottest December day on record, as two raging bushfires threaten homes elsewhere in the state.
The Tasmanian capital hit 40.8C early on Monday afternoon, while several other locations in the southeast also passed 40C.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the figures were still subject to verification.
Hobart’s previous hottest December day was recorded in 1897 when the temperature reached 40.6C, coincidentally also on the 30th.
About 20 properties were on Monday evening at risk from a blaze at Pelham in the Derwent Valley west of Hobart, which sparked two emergency warnings.
Crews had to be pulled back from the blaze due to the size of flames, Peter Middleton from the Tasmania Fire Service told ABC Radio.
Mr Middleton said Monday’s scorching temperatures and forecast high winds into the night were a ‘recipe for disaster’.
‘It makes it very challenging for our crews. Temperatures will cool but we’re expecting the winds to pick up, which will prove challenging,’ he said.
Another blaze in Tasmania’s northeast prompted emergency warnings for the town of Fingal, plus Mangana and Tower Hill, with residents told to head to a safer location.
A cool change is forecast on Tuesday, when the TFS hopes to conduct aerial patrols to look for fires sparked by dry lightning strikes from passing thunderstorms.
Popular tourist destinations, including Mt Wellington in Hobart and the Three Capes and Wineglass Bay walking tracks, were closed on Monday due to the hazardous conditions.
The annual Taste of Tasmania food festival in Hobart was forced to close early at 5pm because of the extreme weather.
Conditions were hazy on the state’s east coast with smoke from bushfires on mainland Australia.
VICTORIAN BUSHFIRES KEY POINTS
*More than 10 fires are burning in East Gippsland, including three that have been going for more than a month
*Seven emergency warnings and one evacuate now alert were active in East Gippsland as of 1.50pm Monday
*16 fires in Victoria started overnight due to dry lightning
*A fire sparked by dry lightning between Cann River and Mallacoota travelled 24km in six hours overnight, created a 14km high plume and its own dry lightning
*The Ensay-Barmouth Spur fire had been two blazes before joining, burning about 100,000 hectares
*Hot, dry and windy conditions forecast across Victoria with the temperature to soar into the 40s across most parts of the state
*A wind change is expected to reach East Gippsland early Tuesday morning
*The Princes Highway is closed between Cann River and Genoa
*The Great Alpine Road between Bruthen and Ensay could be shut for up to a fortnight
*People can register that they are not in danger at register.redcross.org.au
*Fire updates can be found on the VicEmergency app, emergency.vic.gov.au, on emergency broadcasters or the hotline on 1800 226 226 and social media
*Relief centres have been set up in Bairnsdale, Sale, Cann River, Orbost, Omeo, Lakes Entrances, and across the NSW-border in Delegate
Sources: State Control Centre, BoM, VicEmergency website, state government