Most residents of the Kennett River, Grey River and Wongarra communities have left their homes, with conditions at the Lorne bushfire expected to intensify on New Year’s Eve.
Emergency service crews continue to fight the 2310-hectare fire, which is burning out-of-control along the Great Ocean Road.
Hot, windy conditions forecast for Thursday prompted the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to issue the recommendation to seek shelter away from the fire affected areas, due to fears the it may increase its activity.
Sugarloaf, near Wongarra, was later added to the evacuation warning.
“There’s a small number that have said they will stay to protect their properties,” Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said.
“We know where they are. The fire control people know where they are and the strike teams will work with them.
“If the fire hasn’t moved they will go back home but if it has moved and caused further destruction, they will have to make a decision then of when it is safe to go home.”
The Wye River and Separation Creek communities also remained on alert, following a horror week which saw the loss of 116 homes on Christmas Day.
Temperatures were expected to soar to 37 degrees on Thursday at Aireys Inlet, just north of the fire zone, before cooling to about 22 degrees on New Year’s Day.
“A very hot and dry day across Victoria with northwesterly winds becoming locally fresh over western and central districts,” the Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement.
“A cool change for southwestern and central parts in the afternoon and evening.”
Authorities currently have no idea when they might be able to contain the fire, with some predictions expecting them to continue to burn for months.
On Wednesday, CFA’s Joe Buffone urged residents to keep up-to-date with fire alerts and plan to leave early.
“So we’re asking all Victorians to be vigilant tomorrow, to apply common sense, to go out and enjoy themselves tomorrow but please make sure you apply some common sense when it comes to fire,” he said.
According to the CFA, residents evacuating the area should travel along the Great Ocean Road towards Apollo Bay, turn on the vehicle’s headlights and driving slowly as smoke would make visibility low.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised the resilience of local residents in a visit to the fire zone on Tuesday, describing the CFA crews as “lifesavers”.
“Our hearts go out to you,” he said.
“There’s both tragedy and triumph here. And it’s only human to focus on the tragedy and the loss, but there is a real triumph in the way this community has managed this natural disaster, which has a force and power beyond human control.”
More than 160 CFA vehicles were fighting the Lorne fire early on Thursday afternoon.
A relief centre was set up at Costin Street in Apollo Bay.
Man arrested over Sunbury fires
Also on Thursday, a 47-year-old man was arrested in relation to two bushfires north-west of Melbourne in the past week.
Victoria Police confirmed the male was from Sunbury.
Hume Crime Investigation Unit detectives in conjunction with Arson and Explosive Squad detectives took the man into custody on Thursday morning.
Police believe one of the fires was lit on Christmas Day at Williams Rise and the other on December 29 at Racecourse Road, both in Sunbury.
“He is currently in custody assisting with enquiries,” police said in a statement.
“He is expected to be charged with bushfire related offences.”
– with ABC