Update 11pm Sunday: Residents were warned to take shelter at home overnight Sunday as it was too late to flee many small Victorian towns surrounded terrifying bushfires.
Emergency warnings were in place on Sunday night for a number of regional communities where blazes burned nearby including Wangarabell, Wroxham, Wingan River, Buldah, Chandlers Creek, Club Terrace, Combienbar, Hilo Crossing, Noorinbee, Noorinbee North, Weeragua and Wingan River.
Warnings on Vic Emergency’s website informed residents they were in “danger and need to act immediately to survive”.
“The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave. Leaving now would be deadly,” the emergency alert warned.
EMERGENCY WARNING for Buldah, Chandlers Creek, Club Terrace, Combienbar, Hilo Crossing, Noorinbee, Noorinbee North, Weeragua, Wingan River.
You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive. The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediatelyhttps://t.co/SXnEE33TET pic.twitter.com/kyFGlE8UER
— VicEmergency (@vicemergency) January 5, 2020
Two people have been killed in Victoria in the past week and 110 homes destroyed while four people remain missing in the state.
Eighteen communities remained cut off by bushfires and road blocks amid fears that blazes in the state’s far east and northeast could join into a “mega fire”.
About 1 million hectares has burnt in Victoria to date, including 800,000 hectares in East Gippsland and 180,000 in the north-east.
The number of missing people was revised down to four people on Sunday afternoon in the East Gippsland bushfires.
— Charis Chang (@CharisChang2) January 5, 2020
It was hoped cooler conditions and light rain on Sunday would give crews some respite.
However Premier Daniel Andrews said the danger was far from over, with more deteriorating conditions forecast for Thursday and Friday.
Mr Andrews warned that such “campaign fires” which raged for weeks and months were almost impossible to stop.
“It’s not something we have seen before,” he said.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp urged Victorians to remain vigilant.
“What we are seeing with our weather, is yes, it is milder, it’s more moderate, there has actually been some rain,” said Mr Crisp.
“But in terms of people thinking that this rain is going to put the fires out, that’s not the case.
“There has been such a drought, particularly in the East Gippsland area, we know these fires are with us for a long time.”
Mr Andrews confirmed more people had been airlifted out of Mallacoota on Sunday.
Sixty-one people had left the town on Sunday morning via Australian Defence Force helicopters and a ship, and another 350 had indicated they wanted to leave. A further 400 still remained by the coast.
While the focus is on fighting flames and preparing for looming conditions, recovery efforts are also underway.
Food, and supplies for livestock are being trucked, shipped and flown in to help devastated communities.
In towns cut off by fires, police and military were on Sunday afternoon trying to reach locals to at least provide them with satellite phones so they have access to emergency information and can call for help.
They will be offered opportunities to be flown to safety and authorities are confident that as smoke clears they will be able to reach more communities.
Mr Andrews has urged people to give money rather than food or other goods.
“I don’t want to appear harsh in any way, but we don’t need any more clothes, food, trucks on our roads, we don’t have the warehouse capacity, the people or the time to sort through,” Mr Andrews said.
Mr Andrews confirmed the government would match the amount contributed during the Black Saturday tragedy in February 2009, pledging two million dollars to a bushfires fund.
The Bureau of Meteorology said steady rain over the next two days could help fire crews gain more control over the massive blazes.
Monday is likely to bring similar light steady rain in the same places, with forecasts of up to 15mm through Gippsland and the ranges which is not enough to stop the fires.
A state of emergency remains in place for Victoria throughout next week and Premier Daniel Andrews has urged people to heed warnings and not be complacent.
The fires have already killed Buchan man Mick Roberts and Maramingo Creek man Fred Becker.