Thousands of people will be rescued by army helicopters after spending New Year’s Eve stranded on the beach as a horrific bushfire engulfed the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will help respond to fires raging in Victoria’s East Gippsland where four people are missing in blazes that have destroyed at least 43 homes.
Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters will join the Navy in rescuing thousands of stranded tourists and locals – and will provide vital supplies to those affected by the bushfires.
Authorities believe more than 4000 people are still stuck at Mallacoota, in the state’s far east, which was hit by fire about 8.30am on Tuesday.
Two people were confirmed dead in New South Wales with another unaccounted for as a blaze tears through the state’s south coast.
In Mallacoota, the sky turned an eerie shade of black in the morning before transforming into a deep red, with residents reporting ‘hot embers’ falling from the sky and a deafening ‘roar’ as the fire approached.
Residents heard gas bottles exploding as the fire edged closer to the town.
Nervous people took to social media as they stood on the town’s pier in life jackets said they were waiting for a signal that meant they should ‘get down to the water and get underwater’.
By midday many people were still waiting on the beach and jetty. One person at the wharf reported the fire was within 300m.
A handful of houses could be seen alight by 2pm but authorities said the fire in the main CBD was being held back.
On Tuesday evening, though, the state’s Country Fire Authority said a wind change which swept through the region had bypassed the fire-threatened town of Mallacoota.
‘I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced,’ CFA Deputy Chief Officer Steve Warrington said.
Emergency sirens have been sounding at the town, and the fire threatening the town has burnt more than 72,000 hectares.
Eight emergency warnings are still in place and there are fears dry lightning storms could spark yet more fires.
Clifton Creek Primary school has been wiped out by a bushfire in East Gippsland, 20-minutes from Bairnsdale, with all of the building reduced to rubble as a result of the blaze.
It’s The Apocalypse
NSW fires LIVE: Two dead, multiple emergency warnings issued by RFS as blazes burn across state on New Years Eve
‘Utterly surreal’: Thousands trapped on Australian beach by massive fire, turning skies RED & raining embers (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
A raging brush fire has trapped up to 4,000 people on a beach at a popular tourist resort in Australia, turning what many hoped would be a sunny holiday into a nightmare, complete with deadly ember storms and blood red skies.
Inching its way toward the seaside town of Mallacoota early on Tuesday, the inferno has left thousands of tourists and locals stranded with no route of escape, as officials warn of extreme fire-induced thunderstorms and “ember attacks” in the area.
“We’ve got a fire that looks like it’s about to impact on Mallacoota,” Andrew Crisp, Emergency Management Commissioner in the state of Victoria, told ABC, adding that three “strike teams” of emergency workers had been sent to watch over the thousands trapped on the beach.
Though a number of structures, including homes, have already succumbed to extreme temperatures and embers given off by the blaze and carried by high winds, no serious injuries have yet been reported in the town. Some areas have lost both electricity and phone service, according to local media.
As the flames marched eastward on Mallacoota, sweeping over 200,000 hectares, startling images emerged on social media showing skies dyed bright red, with the encroaching fires and a thick blanket of smoke transforming the idyllic beachside town into a scene from Armageddon.