Holidaymakers in parts of Victoria have refused to evacuate despite warnings firefighters won’t be able to help them if the situation escalates on Monday.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the conditions in the East Gippsland region are so dangerous the only road in – and out – of its tourist towns may be inaccessible by morning.
About 30,000 tourists in the region, as well as an additional 45,000 locals in surrounding suburbs, were told to leave on Sunday in what would be one of the biggest mass evacuations in Australia’s history.
Incident controller Ben Rankin from the Gippsland region likened the conditions to that of Black Saturday in 2009, when 180 people died.
The fire front is approaching areas in East Gippsland and is expected to worsen on Monday
The fire has burned through much of the bushland and has offered no indication of slowing down
Richard Darby from the Swifts Creek General Store said choosing to ignore that warning ‘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.
Emergency services have warned the Princes Highway – which is the only access road to many of the seaside suburbs – could close with a moment’s notice in the morning.
It closed and opened again on Sunday night, but Vic Emergency warned people should not expect it to remain open on Monday.
But many are 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 is staying at a holiday park on the edge of the fire zone, told The Australian.
‘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, told the paper 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 the have chosen to stay put because a mass evacuation would cause chaos on the roads.
‘Thirty, forty thousand people on to 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,’ another holidaymaker told Seven News.
Meanwhile other 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.
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.
Firefighters have been battling blazes in the region for weeks. This picture was uploaded last Sunday after a day of battling blazes
The blacked out circle shows which suburbs authorities were urging to evacuate on Sunday
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.
At Big 4 Whiters Holiday Village, manager Michael Smits said just six out of 67 guests chose to check out.
In Victoria, emergency services are unable to force people to leave their homes or residences.
Temperatures across the state 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.
The primary concern for tourists is that the fires will block access to the Princes Highway, meaning they’d be unable to flee.
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
Bureau of Meteorology Kevin Parkyn said a wind change in East Gippsland 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.’
‘Leave now’ warnings have been put in place for parts of Victoria as the weather conditions are predicted to worsen
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, with light purple meaning 45C and red 28C
THE WEATHER IN YOUR CITY
MONDAY: Min 21. Max 31. Mostly sunny.
TUESDAY: Min 23. Max 35. Possible storm. Late cool change.
WEDNESDAY: Min 20. Max 25. Cloudy and overcast.
MONDAY: Min 21. Max 30. Partly cloudy.
TUESDAY: Min 21. Max 30. cloudy.
WEDNESDAY: Min 22. Max 32. Sunny.
MONDAY: Min 27. Max 40. Windy. Possible storm.
TUESDAY: Min 16. Max 26. Cloud clearing.
WEDNESDAY: Min 13. Max 29. Mostly Sunny.
MONDAY: Min 19. Max 39. Hot. Partly cloudy.
TUESDAY: Min 21. Max 38. Possible storm. Late smoke.
WEDNESDAY: Min 13. Max 35. Partly cloudy.
Source: Bureau of Meteorology
MONDAY: Min 20. Max 41. Hot. Late cool change.
TUESDAY: Min 17. Max 22. Shower or two.
WEDNESDAY: Min 14. Max 23. Mostly sunny.
MONDAY: Min 17. Max 27. Cloud clearing.
TUESDAY: Min 15. Max 32. Sunny.
WEDNESDAY: Min 18. Max 36. Sunny.
MONDAY: Min 14. Max 40. Very hot. Shower or two.
TUESDAY: Min 15. Max 22. Possible shower.
WEDNESDAY: Min 12. Max 23. Partly cloudy.
MONDAY: Min 26. Max 34. Shower or two. Possible storm.
TUESDAY: Min 27. Max 35. Showers. Possible afternoon storm.
WEDNESDAY: Min 27. Max 35. Showers. Possible storm.