Governments and local communities have swung into action to help those affected by the bushfires that have destroyed up to 100 homes in New South Wales and Victoria.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has warned residents that the fire that destroyed 69 homes and buildings in the coastal town of Tathra, near Bega, was still actively burning and it was not yet safe to return.
Initial damage assessment has found 30 caravans and cabins were also destroyed, but 398 houses were saved or untouched.
The 1000-hectare blaze around Tathra, which started on Sunday afternoon, was fanned by strong winds and high temperatures in the state’s east.
“Our early indications are that the number of buildings impacted is likely to climb above 70, but we will confirm that with the work of the building impact assessment teams this morning,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Network Seven on Monday.
“It’s an awful situation throughout the community of Tathra, where we have damaged buildings, damaged homes, and infrastructure,” he said.
He described the blaze as a “firestorm”.
“It was raining fire embers through the township – there were spot fires starting all throughout the streets of the town,” he told 2GB Radio.
The blaze burned through several kilometres of bushland and crossed a river before reaching the township and is still out of control.
Hundreds of residents in the town, which has a population of about 1600, slept in a Bega evacuation centre or in their cars.
Communication was hampered when a mobile phone tower collapsed, making it difficult to determine how many people remained in the town.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday her government will do what it can to help the affected residents.
“So many homes lost and people displaced in quite a shocking way, I can imagine it is only beginning to sink in and the next few days will be tough.
“I want everybody to know that we will do everything we can to make it easier for them,” Ms Berejiklian told Network Seven.
More than 100 firefighters working with aircraft and bulldozers are “trying to gain the upper hand” on the fire.
South-west Victorian fires still burning
More than 700 firefighters are tackling active bushfires burning in the rural areas of Terang, Camperdown, and Cobden where watch-and-act alerts remain active.
“We have still-going fires, three are listed as still-going. We have done well around the containment lines, we have active fire with inside lines which is a really good thing for firefighters,” Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley told the Nine Network on Monday.
The fires, believed to have started by lightning strikes on Saturday, have also claimed 42 sheds and an unknown number of livestock.
In Cobden, 1000 people attended a community meeting overnight and it is expected to be some days before some places have power restored.
Fire operations manager Barry James said crews are still working on containment as winds pick up.
“Obviously the increased wind we are seeing will provide some challenges. There are still some areas out there that are actively going, although we’ve had benign weather overnight,” he told the Nine Network.
It’s been 36 hours after the fires first sparked on Saturday and power has been restored to most properties, although some places won’t have power for days.
Mr Lapsley said it will be a tough few days as people will be unable to get to their properties.
“It is still a going fire, road blocks are in place some people can’t get to where they are. They will be frustrated but stick with us, it’s about safety,” he said.
“Particularly the dairy industry, the cows need to be milked and milk has to be transported out of the area.
“Everything is going well. 36 hours have past. Things that otherwise might take weeks have already been addressed, which is fantastic. We just need the community to stick with us.”