More than 30,000 tourists in Australia who refused to evacuate an area east of Melbourne amid raging bushfires are now ‘trapped’ after locals warned earlier that staying would be ‘suicide’.
Hundreds of blazes are burning across Australia, which is experiencing a devastating summer bushfire season fuelled by a prolonged drought and climate change.
Hundreds of thousands 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.
Emergencies chief Andrew Crisp told residents and holidaymakers to leave by 9am Monday or risk getting stranded, before giving an update later in the day saying it is now ‘too late’ to get out safely.
His agency has also warned it is ‘not possible’ to provide aid to all visitors.
Meanwhile residents in northern Melbourne were told to ‘act immediately to survive’ as out-of-control wildfires bore down on the suburb of Bundoora.
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
Tens of thousands of tourists and residents in the East Gippsland region risk getting stuck as wildfires burning across the Victoria-New South Wales border threaten to cut Princes Highway, the last major escape route open
The fire has burned through much of the bushland and has offered no indication of slowing down (pictured is an aerial view of the Gippsland fires taken on December 29)
Emergencies chief Andrew Crisp told both residents and tens of thousands of holidaymakers in the East Gippsland region to leave no later than Monday morning
Temperatures of more than 104F, strong winds, thunderstorms and a wind change moving across the state meant Monday would be one of extreme danger, authorities said
‘You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive,’ the agency said in a message to residents. ‘The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave.’
Local media showed images of water bombers flying over the neighbourhoods and families dousing their homes with water hoses in the hope of halting the fire’s spread.
Bundoora is located just 10 miles (16km) north of Melbourne city centre and is home to two major Australian university campuses.
Ten people have been killed, more than 1,000 homes destroyed and more than three million hectares (7.4 million acres) – an area bigger than Belgium – have been scorched.
Conditions worsened on Friday with high winds and temperatures soaring across the country – reaching 117F (47C) in Western Australia and topping 104F (40C) in every region – including the usually temperate island of Tasmania.
In East Gippsland, fire crews said that some of the blazes were burning so intensely that hundreds of firefighters were pulled back after it was deemed ‘unsafe’ for them to remain in bushland areas,
Gippsland fire incident controller Ben Rankin said the situation is ‘very intense.’
Neighbouring South Australia is also experiencing ‘catastrophic’ fire conditions.
The Country Fire Service’s Brenton Eden said it would be a ‘very dangerous’ day for people in the state, with ‘dry’ thunderstorms – which produce thunder and lightning but no rain – already sparking a number of fires including an emergency-level blaze on Kangaroo Island.
‘Winds are gusting and unfortunately this is a dry lightning front that is going to move rapidly across South Australia,’ he told national broadcaster ABC.
Conditions were also expected to deteriorate in worst-hit New South Wales, where 100 fires were burning Monday morning including more than 40 uncontained.
Sydney and other major cities have been shrouded in toxic bushfire smoke haze for weeks, forcing children to play indoors and causing professional sporting events to be cancelled.
A map showing areas that are currently burning (in black), areas where emergency warnings are in place (red), areas where people are being told to monitor conditions closely (orange), and where fire advice has been issued (yellow)
Victorian authorities have released dire emergency warnings about bushfires in East Gippsland on Monday
Temperatures are set to soar in Victoria on Monday, with a total fire ban in place across the state and extreme fire danger ratings in most regions
Some tourists said they’ve been sent ‘mixed signals’ after receiving texts urging them to leave immediately, but later being told by motel staff they were safe
A koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney
The capital Canberra has cancelled its New Year’s Eve fireworks display due to a total fire ban in the Australia Capital Territory, while several regional towns have also followed suit.
A petition to cancel Sydney’s famous New Year’s Eve fireworks and use the money to fight bushfires ringing the city has topped 270,000 signatures, but officials say the show will go on.
Sydney has spent Aus$6.5 million ($4.5 million) on this year’s fireworks display – funds that the Change.org petition argues would be better spent on supporting volunteer firefighters and farmers suffering through a brutal drought.
On Sunday, local retailer Richard Darby warned residents and tourists choosing to ignore the warnings that it ‘could be suicide’.
‘It’s going to be a very bad day tomorrow, they are telling everyone to get out while they can,’ Mr Darby told The Herald Sun.
East Gippsland Mayor John White said bushland in the region was bone dry after three years of drought.
‘Hopefully people heed the messages. You can rebuild homes, sheds and fences but life is irreplaceable,’ he said.
But many were taking little notice of the warnings.
Managers at holiday parks within the East Gippsland region, particularly at the Lakes Entrance, said most of their customers were opting to stay and had taken a relaxed approach.
‘We know that some people have left, others are staying,’ Iain Podd, who remains at a holiday park on the edge of the fire zone, told The Australian.
Firefighters have been battling blazes in the region for weeks. This picture was uploaded last Sunday after a day of battling blazes
A desperate koala flags down a cyclist and sips water from her bottle as temperatures soar in Australia, which is being devastated by bush fires
‘The receptionist here has told us that the direction of the wind means we won’t be affected. But of course we will move on if the situation changes.’
Michael Smits, who manages the Big 4 Whiters Holiday Village at Lakes Entrance, said just six of the 67 groups staying there had evacuated.
‘Many people are saying that they’re going to hang about town, go to a cafe, perhaps go to the beach or wander up and down The Esplanade. There’s certainly no panic,’ he said.
Others said they have chosen to stay put because a mass evacuation would cause chaos on the roads.
‘Thirty, forty thousand people onto the Princess Highway at once. That’s just chaos – an accident waiting to happen. Emergency services couldn’t keep up – and neither could the road,’ one holidaymaker told Seven News.
Meanwhile, other tourists said they were sent ‘mixed signals’ after receiving texts urging them to leave immediately, but later being told by motel staff they were safe.
One woman who shared the confusion to Twitter was encouraged to evacuate and said she was given a three-night refund by the motel management.
‘You won’t be able to sue the motel for the bad advice if you’re dead,’ one person wrote in response to her questioning whether she should leave.
In Victoria, emergency services cannot force people to leave their homes or residences.
This bushfire season has already taken nine leaves and destroyed more than 1,000 properties along much of the east coast of Australia.
The blazes have shown no sign of slowing down.
Temperatures across Victoria on Monday are predicted to soar past 40C, which combined with hot, dry winds could fuel the fire and push it further toward at-risk communities.
Three significant fires are still burning within East Gippsland – near Bruthen, Buchan and Bonang – but authorities predict each of these could spread by morning.
Victorian authorities have told tourists in Lakes Entrance (pictured) to leave now due to wild bushfires in East Gippsland
Firefighters tackling a blaze in Gippsland. Catastrophic fire conditions are forecast for Monday, leading Victorian authorities to warn holiday makers to evacuate immediately
‘Leave now’ warnings have been put in place for parts of Victoria as the weather conditions are predicted to worsen
Bureau of Meteorology Kevin Parkyn said a wind change in East Gippsland at about midnight is ‘very problematic when it comes to fires and the landscape’.
‘It’s a very serious life-threatening situation. Make no mistake about it,’ he said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews posted a Tweet urging tourists to leave.
‘If you are in East Gippsland you should leave today while it’s safe to do so,’ Mr Andrews posted.
‘Residents should activate their fire plan and consider staying with friends and family outside the area. If you are visiting, you should leave today. Please DO NOT travel to the area.’
The combination of the hot, dry windy conditions coupled with the wind change across the state on Monday will fuel the nasty fire conditions.
More than 70 helicopters and planes will be working on Monday if conditions allow.
People in Goongerah and Martins Creek have also been told to evacuate as a bushfire burning easterly towards their communities was still not under control on Sunday.
A watch and act warning is in place for Goongerah, Martins Creek, Nurran, Sardine Creek and Errinundra, which states ‘leaving now is the safest option’ before conditions change.
A total fire ban is in place for the entire state of Victoria on Monday.
Event organisers have advised festival goers not to return to Lorne (pictured) or other coastal towns on the Great Ocean Road as they are facing the same extreme weather conditions
The extreme weather conditions forced Falls Festival in Lorne to cancel the remainder of the acts.
About 9,000 festivalgoers were sent home as the region braces for severe weather, including winds up to 100km/h and storms.
In a statement on Sunday morning, festival organisers Secret Sounds said conditions posed a risk to health and safety.
‘It is with a heavy heart we have had to cancel the remaining days of The Falls Festival in Lorne due to the predicted extreme weather conditions forecast for Monday December 30th in the Otways and surrounding region, creating a risk to health and safety due to potential fires, smoke, severe winds and tree hazards.
‘The decision has not been made lightly, our patron and staff safety is our priority,’ the statement said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was in Sydney announcing compensation for NSW volunteers on the fire grounds, said other states were also on his mind.
‘We are seeing a real difficult situation emerging in Victoria where we know of the weather conditions particularly changing over the next few days,’ he said on Sunday.
‘I want to assure Australians outside New South Wales … our attention is equally there and ensuring the coordinated effort across states and territories is being put in place.’
A ‘severe’ heatwave sweeping across Australia is expected over the New Year period. Pictured: National forecast for Monday, December 30, with light purple meaning 45C and red 28C