Australia’s ordeal by fire is far from over amid another emergency warning in northeast Victoria early Thursday morning and an evacuation notice for residents of South Australia’s devastated Kangaroo Island.
And worse fire weather is on the way.
At 6am, Victorian authorities declared a bushfire near Wangaratta, in the state’s northeast, was at emergency level. The warning applies for the towns of Bobinawarrah, Carboor, Kneebones Gap, Whorouly, Whorouly East and Whorouly South. The flames are moving in a northwesterly direction towards Carboor.
By 8am, a fire spreading in South Australia’s Kangaroo Island had jumped containment lines.
Two people have been killed in the bushfires that have already wiped out 170,000 hectares of the tourist island. Overnight Wednesday, authorities ordered locals in the town of Vivonne Bay to evacuate as they fear further fatalities.
- Follow real-time fire updates for South Australia here
The state of disaster declared in parts of Victoria will remain in place as fire conditions are forecast to worsen in coming days.
Calm and mild weather conditions are expected across Victoria on Thursday. But it will be the last day of respite this week, the forecast prompting Premier Daniel Andrews to warn: “this is not over by a long shot”.”
“We have forecast conditions of extreme danger, very significant fire activity is likely off the back of a hot day today, a hot day tomorrow,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Thursday.
“A change is not coming through in the east of the state until late afternoon tomorrow and in the northern part of the state not until the evening on Saturday.
“This means that we have every reason to believe there will be significant fire activity over the next 48 hours and that means it is appropriate that we continue the state of disaster.”
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said there were 23 fires burning across the state, 13 watch and act messages in place and 1.2 million hectares had been burnt.
The number of fires has increased from 12, but Mr Crisp said said there were not new fires, the information was just being broken up so communities could better understand threats from the merged blazes.
“In the lead-up to the spike day, on the Monday 10 days ago, we stood here and talked about people should not be in East Gippsland,” Mr Crisp said.
“Our message this time is clear and simple, it is exactly the same message: You should not be there.”
Extreme fire danger weather is predicted to hit on Friday. The Bureau of Meteorology on Wednesday issued an extreme fire danger warning for the north of the state on Friday, with a severe warning for the Mallee and northeast districts.
Temperatures nearing 40 degrees are also forecast in some areas on Friday, along with northerly winds, ahead of a change in the afternoon.
It comes after a beloved father of two was named as Victoria’s third official bushfire victim.
- Follow real-time Victorian fire updates here
Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh had just put out seven unattended campfires and was driving on the Goulburn Valley Highway at Thornton with a colleague when their car crashed on January 3.
Mr Kavanagh, 43, who was a local to the area, leaves behind his wife Jude and their two children.
Forest Fires Management Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said Mr Kavanagh had worked in many roles at the organisation including as a firefighter, a roads management officer and most recently in fire prevention.
“He was doing critically important work stopping new fires in the environment and we have 2800 people doing that every day right across the state,” Mr Hardman said.
“It’s a devastating loss for everybody in the sector but for those people who knew Mat it’s going to take a long time – I can’t imagine what the family are going through and what Mat’s colleagues are going through. It’s such a very sad day.”
Mick Roberts, 67, from Buchan and Maramingo Creek timber worker Fred Becker were also killed while battling Victorian bushfires in recent weeks.
It’s with great sadness that I share the news of the loss of one of our own during what has been an extremely difficult and challenging time for many. Mat Kavanagh was a dedicated member of our team for 10 years and was much loved. Our hearts go out to Mat's family and friends. pic.twitter.com/KXWIHn6UFt
— Chris Hardman (@FFMVic_Chief) January 8, 2020
Meanwhile, back in in South Australia, Kangaroo Island residents were told to evacuate on Wednesday night ahead of a predicted 40-degree day and hot, dry north winds promised to lash the tourist mecca once again.
Like so many others in the close-knit community, sheep farmer Richard Stanton has nothing left.
In the bushfire that raged across the island last week, he and his family lost three homes and almost all their stock.
Such was the ferocity of the blaze, some of the sheep were completely cremated.
“Day by day, it’s getting harder,” he said of the devastating impact.
“Because we’re still out there. We’ve been actively fighting (fires) the whole time.”
As Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid a flying visit to the island on Wednesday, Madelyn Kelly was monitoring the latest weather bulletins with a mounting sense of dread.
“We’ve still got stuff that can burn,” she said, recalling the hours of anxiety and sheer terror as her husband and son fought the flames to a standstill over the weekend.
“Even though it’s gone through the whole farm, there’s still canopy stuff that can burn.”
“Tomorrow’s not good. It’s round two.”
Emergency services have sent backup fire teams to the island and an ADF contingent is in place.
So far, the Kangaroo Island bushfire has burnt through 160,000 hectares, destroyed 56 homes and claimed two lives.
Victoria is a little luckier this time – at least for the moment – with Thursday’s temperatures predicted to go no higher than the low 30s in Melbourne and winds from the south.
Wednesday’s conditions were a welcome greeting when the final shipload of Mallacoota climate refugees dropped anchor in Western Port, marking an end to their nightmare week of fire, smoke, isolation at the end of a tree-blockaded road and the gnawing uncertainty of not knowing what the fires would throw at them next.
Victoria’s respite may only be temporary, as Friday’s forecast has higher temperatures and hot, dry winds once again veering from the parched north.
The lowest projected fire rating for Victoria on Friday covers the south-west of the state, which the Country Fire Authority rates as ‘high’. After that it gets really nasty. with the danger rating in every other part of the state rated either ‘extremely high’ or ‘severe’.
Meanwhile in Western Australia, lives and homes were in danger late on Wednesday night as a bushfire raged northeast of Perth, with an emergency warning issued for the southern parts of Toodyay.
“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive,” the Department of Fire and Emergency Services warned.
Lives and homes are also were in danger from a fast-moving and uncontrolled bushfire near Eyre Highway in Western Australia’s southeast which breached containment lines on Wednesday afternoon.
Although #TropicalCycloneBlake was downgraded to a #TropicalLow yesterday, it still is continuing to bring strong #winds and heavy #rain to northwestern #WesternAustralia as night falls over the country.
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) January 8, 2020
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services is weighing the safety risk of reopening the Eyre Highway, where truckies and tourists have been caught for the past 10 days.
“This is a dynamic situation … these plans are subject to change with variable weather conditions and fire activity currently being experienced as ex Tropical Cyclone Blake moves through the area,” the DFES said.
Some fresh Sentinel-2 imagery captured 11 hours ago of central NSW and Victoria.
This frame shows the Dunns Road, Doubtful Gap Trail, and most of the Adaminaby Complex blazes in false colour; the dark grey is burnt area. pic.twitter.com/I2l70cZqOs
— Nathanael Coyne (@NathanaelB) January 8, 2020
In NSW there was the some good news, but just a bit, as out-of-control fires continued to ravage the Snowy mountains.
As the RFS battled “out of control” blazes around Adaminaby and Good Good, south coast residents were getting their power restored after what, in some cases, has been four or more days of darkness.
Down the road, the Bureau of Meteorology says genuine hope, predicting higher than average rainfall on the Victoria-NSW border fires.