Residents who yesterday sheltered on the Mallacoota foreshore under red skies as a bushfire closed in around them have begun to inspect the destruction left behind in the Victorian coastal town.
The blaze, which is still burning at an emergency level and threatening homes and lives near Cann River, tore through the town on Tuesday while some 4000 people waited at the water.
On Wednesday, aerial footage shows the town has been made unrecognisable, with buildings along several streets reduced to rubble.
Those in the town said dozens of homes had been destroyed as emergency crews tried to clear the road to the airport.
East Gippsland incident controller Ben Rankin said the breadth of the fires and the impact on communities had exceeded his expectations.
“I mentioned it was similar to Black Saturday and I think it has turned out to be that sort of impact for Gippsland,” he said.
The state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said at least 10 homes had been destroyed in Mallacoota.
Business owner Mark Peters returned from the foreshore to find he had lost his home and bed and breakfast in the fires, and told RN Breakfast the town looked like a war zone.
“There’s nothing, not a thing. It’s all black, smoky, all the trees are burnt out, no leaves left on them. Everywhere that used to have koalas and bell birds and that sort of thing, everything’s gone,” he said.
The town is still without power, and a “boil water” advice is in place for the area, as authorities urged residents the town’s reserves were low.
Mark Trellegas told the ABC the sky was black in the early hours of Tuesday morning, which then turned “blood red” as the fire closed in.
He said the thousands of people huddled down by the water were calm and quiet and people offered food and drinks to their neighbours.
He said nearly everyone knew someone who had lost a home in the town, and he suspected it would take “many years” to rebuild the town.
Resident Don Ashby told ABC Gippsland he had lost his house and estimated about 50 homes had been destroyed.
“It’s just stuff. It’s an opportunity to build a new home and fill it full of new junk,” he told ABC Gippsland.
“Mallacoota community are a bunch of triers and a bunch of people who get on with it. We all pull together when we need to, and that’s pretty clearly what’s happening here.”
Although the fire passed through the town yesterday afternoon, the area remains cut off and under an emergency warning for the blaze.
“The immediate worry has passed, but … we’re under this threat until the next time we get some really heavy rain,” Mr Ashby said.
The Australian Defence Force has been called in to help with the bushfire emergency, and Mr Crisp said a police boat would be taking 1.6 tonnes of water to Mallacoota on Wednesday.