Exhausted firefighters are battling to contain a “mega-blaze” covering half-a-million hectares on the New South Wales-Victorian border.
Major fire fronts burning at East Ournie Creek and Dunns Road merged on Friday, creating a bushfire of enormous scale.
The NSW Rural Fire Service confirmed the massive blaze was burning in just one of several “red zones”, where people are in the most danger.
After three days of back-burning, clearing roads and evacuation of residents, the two initially seperate fires were upgraded to watch and act level at 11am on Friday amid high temperatures and ferocious winds.
Watch and Act – Border Fire (Bega Valley LGA)
The fire crossed the Victorian border into New South Wales, and is burning south of Eden. Fire activity is increasing.
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 10, 2020
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Friday afternoon he had issued instructions to the Chief of Defence to prepare the troops.
“I’ve given them very clear instructions that they are to stand ready to move and support immediately in the event that they are needed,” he said.
“They will move and ensure they can provide support as swiftly as they can, but again, working in concert with local state and territory authorities.”
People in the state’s most at-risk regions have been urged to evacuate as extreme fire weather exacerbates the risk of more ongoing bushfires spreading and even merging.
Firefighters are working quickly to combat a blaze spreading quickly northeast of Coonabarabran.
“If you are in Dandry Rd, Tandarra & Galaxy Estate, you are at risk. It is too late to leave. Seek shelter as the fire approaches,” the RFS tweeted.
It’s likely to be “long, difficult and potentially dangerous”, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned on Friday, as an estimated 2500 firefighters battle 134 fires including 53 which are uncontained across the state.
For further information on bushfires across eastern Australia or if you are concerned about family and friends, more information can be found at the following emergency services links:
— Taylor Auerbach (@tauerbach) January 9, 2020
New South Wales
NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers raised concerns residents in fire zones have become “fire fatigued”, saying there’s no room for complacency.
“I think there’s a point where people across the state have been dealing with this for five months now,” Mr Rogers told Sky News.
With the end of this fire season still months away, he urged affected communities to “just hold on a little bit longer”.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott was pictured among a group of volunteer firefighters at Adaminaby, near the Snowy Mountains, where a fire is burning out of control.
— Alex Hart (@alexhart7) January 10, 2020
An extreme fire warning is in place for the southern slopes while severe fire warnings have been issued for the Monaro alpine region, the ACT, southern ranges and eastern Riverina.
Mr Abbott, whose been helping the NSW RFS with its bushfire-fighting efforts, spoke about this “long” and “arduous” fire season.
“I’m one of 70,000 RFS volunteers, let’s hope all of us stay safe and do good work,” he said.
He joined volunteers preparing to fight bushfires south of Canberra.
Fire conditions in NSW are expected to gradually ease early on Saturday as temperatures drop in the wake of the southerly change, Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Grahame Reader said.
“There will be showers and isolated thunderstorms in coastal parts and adjacent ranges.
“These are probably not significant falls. There could be heavier falls locally but that won’t be widespread.”
Building Impact Assessment teams continue working through fire affected areas, to assess property damage. So far 1,995 homes destroyed, over 23,000 buildings saved. 1,079 homes lost since 1 Jan. This figure is likely to increase. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/ywovziMy0l
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 9, 2020
Three evacuation alerts have been issued for fires in Victoria’s northeast and East Gippsland on Friday at 3.30pm as affected communities brace for another horror 24 hours.
People in the alpine region have been told to evacuate as six emergency alerts, the highest possible level, have been issued for fires near Abbeyard, the Buchan Valley and Combienbar.
Five residents declined to leave Combienbar after military helicopters landed in the small town to evacuate residents to safety.
The latest emergency warning has been issued for Swifts Creek, Ensay, Brookville and surrounding areas.
The increased fire activity comes as authorities brace for hotter temperatures and a wind change.
Temperatures are expected to soar into the 40s on Friday across the state’s fire-ravaged East Gippsland and northeast before a cool change arrives, with strong south-westerly winds up to 90km/h which may worsen the fire conditions despite a possible 10mm of rain accompanied by thunderstorms around the fire ground.
“It definitely will, the change is vigorous. We will see erratic winds around the change,” incident controller Brett Mitchell told reporters on Friday in Bairnsdale.
The forecast rain is a fifth of what is needed to put out the fires, and could pose an extra hazard, weather bureau senior forecaster Michael Efron said.
“In terms of the rain today, it could create quite hazardous conditions in terms of making the landscape slippery for those firefighting vehicles.
EVACUATE NOW in place for Brookside, Buckland, Buffalo Creek, Buffalo River, Dunphys Hill, Eurobin, Freeburgh, Harrietville, Merriang, Mount Buffalo, Salt Log, Selwyn, Smoko, Wandiligong, Buckland Junction, Merriang South & Germantown. See: https://t.co/OCECpR5g6f#vicfires pic.twitter.com/GZkbegpp7G
— VicEmergency (@vicemergency) January 10, 2020
Country Fire Authority incident controller Brett Mitchell said aircraft are dealing with the spot fires at Buchan South, Omeo and Swifts Creek in East Gippland.
“We have issued emergency warnings for Buchan South and we are seeing increased activity around Swifts Creek and Omeo, particularly on the western side of the fire,” he told reporters.
“It is getting active and the south-westerly wind change which is due anywhere between 4pm and 7pm will push that fire potentially into private property around Omeo and Swifts Creek.”
He said “erratic winds” will be seen around the change and wind strengths of up to 70-100km/h.
After a brutal night for emergency services trying to control two out-of-control fires in Kangaroo Island, warning levels for all fires were reduced to a watch and act after rain brought some much-needed relief on Friday.
Assessments are now underway, but some homes are believed lost at Vivonne Bay while the town of Parndana was spared, despite fire bearing down on it from several directions.
Two Country Fire Service trucks were involved in burn-overs and two more CFS personnel were injured, taking the total hurt on Kangaroo Island to 22.
— Stan Gorton (@StanGorton) January 9, 2020
Emergency services in Perth remained on high alert on Friday as fire crews battled a large bushfire that burned through paddocks and rural properties in the city’s south.
There were fears the fire would breach containment lines and approach the city’s major freeway due to strong winds.
So far, more than 1200 hectares have been burnt as about 180 firefighters work to contain the fire.
A watch and act remains in place for Mundijong, Hopeland, Oldbury, Mardella, Serpentine, Baldivis, Wellard and Cardup.
Federal government strategies for rebuilding
Meanwhile, the states have each been given millions of dollars in commonwealth cash to immediately provide to local council areas worst affected by the fires.
The federal government is working with the small business lobby to help shop owners and tourist operators devastated by the fires as the government announced earlier this week it had committed $2 billion towards the recovery effort.
It has also developed a mental health strategy expected to be announced in coming days.
Mr Morrison is weighing up calling a royal commission into the disaster, which would also look at hazard reduction burns and national coordination.
“I think Australians, because of the scale of this particular disaster, will be looking for something more holistic,” he told 2GB radio.
“That’s not the focus right now – today there are severe and extreme fire forecasts in Victoria and NSW – but down the track, that’s what premiers and I will discuss.”
The bushfires have so far killed 27 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes.