Four people are missing and homes have been destroyed in fires that have ripped through Victoria’s East Gippsland.
The grim news comes as at least 4000 people sought shelter on the Malacoota beach as the coastal Victorian town besieged by fire.
Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the missing people at a press conference on Tuesday morning in Melbourne.
“There are four people unaccounted for. We can’t confirm their whereabouts,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
The missing people are not firefighters, he said.
Mr Andrews had cut short his holidays to attend the briefing at the State Control Centre.
Fireworks displays planned in the East Gippsland region for New Year celebrations have been cancelled because of the fire risk.
Mr Andrews had been text messaging with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday morning about support for the recovery effort.
“I’ll speak with him after we finish here. We’ve made some requests to the (Australian Defence Force) for their support, both in terms of making damage assessments but also some of these isolated communities can be accessed by sea,” Mr Andrews said.
“We have a range of plans in place ourselves but there may be ways in which the ADF can support us.”
Requests for the help of 70 firefighters have also been made to Canada and the US, Mr Andrews said.
Authorities have started the process of assessing how many properties have been destroyed by the fires, which grew rapidly overnight due to self-generated weather systems sparking dry lightning.
More than 200,000 hectares of land is burning in East Gippsland, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Tuesday.
CFA chief officer Steve Warrington said he had talked to firefighters on the ground and they were seeing conditions not seen for a long time.
“I spoke to them again this morning, ‘It scared the crap out of us,’ that’s from our firefighters,” Mr Warrington told reporters.
“Don’t think our firefighters, because they wear a uniform, are superheroes. They’re people. They’re working with our communities to make sure they’re safe as well.”
“Everyone is hopefully down on the foreshore in the water,” Don Ashby told ABC on Tuesday morning as emergency sirens sounded.
The fire has cut power to the town, with AusNet Services reporting 5700 properties in East Gippsland without electricity due to the fires, and another 1800 in northeast Victoria also down.
Scenes of devastation await residents in Victoria’s East Gippsland region as bushfires continue threatening lives and homes.
East Gippsland Shire Council Mayor John White is surveying the damage at Sarsfield, just outside Bairnsdale, and says some properties have been lost.
“Originally I looked at some of the houses…. I couldn’t believe the number that have been saved, the fires been burnt right up to them,” he said on Tuesday while surveying the damage.
“And then I’ve gone a little bit further and a lot of the houses have been lost.”
Mr White said he was amazed at the number of houses that were saved though.
“I tip my hat to the firies … they’ve done an amazing job.”
Emergency warnings covered virtually all of the East Gippsland region after fires raged out-of-control amid scorching temperatures and strong winds on Monday.
“It was nature at its most furious,” Mr White said.
Roads remain closed east of Bairnsdale so residents are waiting to see if their homes have been saved.
“(It’s) absolutely gut-wrenching,” the mayor said.
Further east at Mallacoota, thousands of people have been forced on to a beach as the fire hits the town.
Mobile and landline phone lines are also down in parts.
“It’s not pleasant; it’s pitch dark here and the emergency vehicles have disappeared from sight,” resident and local community radio presenter Francesca Winterson told ABC Gippsland.
“The power’s been out here a long time and we’ve run out of solar.
“My home’s in the fire path, I won’t have a home, that’s just the way it’s going to be, we have to try and be calm.”
Properties have been lost in Victoria’s east as out-of-control bushfires rage, but it’s too early to confirm how many, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp says.
“There are property losses and there’s property losses across East Gippsland, but at this stage it’s too early to confirm in which particular locations,” Mr Crisp told ABC News.
Seven emergency warnings, the highest alert, remain in place across East Gippsland and there is another in place for a fire straddling the northeast Victoria-NSW border at Walwa/Corryong.
Three strike teams are looking after thousands of people still believed to be in coastal Mallacoota, Mr Crisp said.
— Brendan (@brendanh_au) December 30, 2019
“We are naturally very concerned about communities that have become isolated and to get an appreciation about other losses there could be we’ll be putting helicopters up doing reconnaissance flights,” he said.
Incident controller Chris Eagle told ABC Gippsland that lightning in the region sparked hundreds of new fires overnight.
By Monday evening, as temperatures soared and the fires started creating their own weather systems, about 1000 firefighters were working on the blazes.
“The satellite took an image of some of the heat tracks, it’s several hours old now, but it’s probably close to at least 60 per cent larger than it was yesterday, so much, much larger and that starts right up north of Gelantipy,” Mr Eagle said.
Towns including Cann River, Bruthen and Orbost had been impacted by the fire and assessment teams will be sent to survey the damage.
EMERGENCY WARNING is being issued for Cabbage Tree Creek & and Brodribb River and surrounds. You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.
The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave. More details at https://t.co/Wg5D3zSUTu pic.twitter.com/BkU6kpmvmF
— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) December 30, 2019
The Princes Highway is closed between Bairnsdale and Genoa. The fire has also crossed Great Alpine Road at Ensay.
A cool change swept through the region after extreme heat on Monday, but windy conditions remain, further fuelling the fires and spreading ash.
Mr Eagle said the fires were generating their own wind systems, which delayed the arrival of the cool change.