Tourists have been warned to “just get out” of the NSW south coast as experts predict a horror weekend of fires likely to also wreak destruction in the Snowy Mountains.
The death toll this bushfire season has climbed to 15, with four confirmed deaths in the past 24 hours. One person remains missing.
More than 100 bushfires are burning and 1087 homes confirmed destroyed.
With HMAS Choules to arrive in Victoria on Thursday, to assist stranded tourists near Mallacoota, the NSW rural fire service is bracing for catastrophic conditions on Saturday.
NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance pleaded with tourists to “just get out of here”.
“I think everybody needs to remember we’re in the middle of this emergency and we have to get through to a recovery phase,” he said.
“Yesterday morning the fire moved at a pace that no one expected.
“We need everyone to listen to messages, though. People just have to leave. The tourists – just get out of here before the weekend.”
The @nswdpi & @llsnsw urge Snowy Mnts & Snowy Monaro landholders to prepare for Sat. Activate bush fire survival plan, move livestock out of timbered areas to open paddocks, consider moving livestock offsite, plan how to move stock. For info call 1800 814 647. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/majb6Dm6Kw
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 1, 2020
Mr Constance said he had a photo of a vehicle someone had driven under a tree and “they’re lucky to be alive because it’s come down on their boot”.
“When the roads are closed, it’s for a reason – they’re so trees don’t come down and kill someone,” he said.
“People have to wait an extra day or two so we can save lives, then just do it.”
Turned left off the Princes Hwy into Conjola Park, NSW South Coast, to find this: house after house, sheds, cars, bush – scorched and wrecked. pic.twitter.com/Rda8pcUq7N
— Jeremy Fernandez (@JezNews) January 1, 2020
The Rural Fire Service is predicting dire conditions for Saturday, when out-of-control fires could burn back into areas along the south coast that survived this week’s horror in which 90 homes were destroyed in Conjola alone. The official count is 15 in Rosedale but locals expect that number will climb to 50.
But there is a huge fight looming in the Snowy Mountains and Snowy Monaro, where residents around Batlow, Thredbo and Tumut are being urged to activate fire plans and move livestock out of timbered areas to open paddocks or even offsite.
— Jonathan Hair (@JonathanHair) January 1, 2020
“There is every potential that the conditions on Saturday will be as bad, or worse, than we saw yesterday,” Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
“The winds are expected to be very strong, backed by 40-plus degree temperatures. We’ve got a lot of fires in the landscape we won’t contain.”
There are also fresh fears for Sydney’s south-west because of the Wollondilly fire.
“We are concerned about that fire because of its potential to run into western Sydney if that fire gets away on Saturday,” the deputy commissioner said.
“It’s not about the number of firefighters — you could have 10,000 fire fighters on each fire [and] we would not be able to get around these fires because where they’re burning is not easy to get to. There are no easy containment lines, we’d have to get earth moving [equipment] in to try to create containment lines.
“That’s why I’m being upfront saying we won’t get around them and Saturday is not looking like it’s going to be a good day at all.”
Finn’s great escape
Meanwhile, the 11-year-old boy whose photograph escaping the bushfires in a tinny at Mallacoota made international news has revealed the terror of that day.
Mother and firefighter Allison Marion took her sons, Finn and Caleb Burns, to safety in a dinghy, under an agreed fire plan worked out with her husband, another firefighter.
“When we left, it just went pitch black and it was really, really windy. We were just worried about getting away from the fire and just being safe,” Finn said.
Ms Marion said she was proud of her son’s bravery.
“Both my boys are little legends, they were very calm. Finn drove the boat and my other son looked after the dog in the boat,” she told ABC.