Wednesday, August 17News That Matters

Do not be here on Saturday: Stark warning for those in path of bushfires

Tens of thousands of people have been ordered to leave parts of Australia’s eastern coastline, as raging bushfires threaten lives.

The south coast of New South Wales will experience extreme danger from fires this weekend, with temperatures forecast to pass 40C (104F).

New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on social media that the area between Batemans Bay and the border with the state of Victoria “is not safe”.

They instructed tourists in the area, which is popular during summer holidays, to leave, adding: “Do not be in this area on Saturday”.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flies over the East Gippsland fires in Victoria, Australia
Image: Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flies over the East Gippsland fires in Victoria, Australia

The warning prompted a rush to escape the zone, which includes the towns of Narooma and Bega.

Transport minister Andrew Constance described the situation as the “largest mass relocation of people out of the region that we’ve ever seen”.

He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp: “We are going to face a worse day on Saturday than what we have been through.”

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NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers added: “There is every potential that the conditions on Saturday will be as bad or worse than we saw (on Tuesday).”

There were long queues outside supermarkets and petrol stations but many people found shelves and petrol pumps empty.

Moving supplies to fire-affected areas has become increasingly difficult, with many roads closed and others covered with debris such as split trees and downed power lines.

A swimming pool in the remains of a house destroyed by bushfires outside Batemans Bay in New South Wales
Image: A swimming pool in the remains of a house destroyed by bushfires outside Batemans Bay in New South Wales

Tens of thousands of homes are without power and some towns have no access to drinking water.

People in a number of other areas have also been told to leave, warned their towns “will not be defendable”.

More than 1,300 homes have been destroyed in NSW, almost 400 of them since Monday.

Sixteen people have been confirmed dead since the fire season began, 15 of them in NSW, including three firefighters.

More than 200 bushfires are burning across New South Wales and Victoria, with other states also battling blazes.

Five military helicopters and two naval ships have been dispatched to help and will bring firefighters, supplies, along with the ability to help with evacuations.

One of these ships – HMAS Choules – has almost reached the seaside town of Mallacoota in East Gippsland, around 300 miles from Victoria’s state capital Melbourne.

On Tuesday, 4,000 people were forced to seek shelter on beaches as flames approached and the main road was cut off, leaving the town isolated.

Residents of Mallacoota, Victoria, have gathered at the wharf as the fire approaches. Pic: @bluesfestblues
Image: Residents of Mallacoota, Victoria, gathered at the wharf as the fire approached. Pic: @bluesfestblues

Much of the town was destroyed but many residents remain stranded, with the only road out expected to remain blocked for weeks.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “We think around 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals are there. Not all of those will want to leave, not all can get on the vessel at one time.”

Around 50 fires are still burning in Victoria and there are fears that major fire fronts could merge with each other or with fires burning over the border in NSW.

Mr Andrews also confirmed 17 people are missing from East Gippsland and 68 homes were lost across the state this week.

County Fire Authority chief officer Steve Warrington said many areas were still unreachable and, therefore, the extent of damage was unknown.

“We can’t even get fire trucks into some of these communities,” he said. “This is not over by a long way.”

Meanwhile, much of eastern Australia is struggling with the smoke.

Canberra, the country’s capital, had air quality more than 21 times the hazardous level on Wednesday and satellite pictures showed that the smoke had even travelled far enough to cover most of New Zealand’s South Island.

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