Wildfires trap thousands on beaches outside Australian waterfront communities | CBC News
Wildfires burning across Australia’s two most-populous states Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities.
In the southeastern town of Mallacoota, Victoria, around 4,000 residents fled toward the waterside as winds pushed an emergency-level wildfire towards their homes. The town was shrouded in darkness from the smoke before turning an unnerving shade of bright red.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said there were plans to evacuate the trapped people by sea and that there were grave fears remain for four people missing. “We can’t confirm their whereabouts,” Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.
He has requested assistance from 70 firefighters from the United States and Canada.
Victoria Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp confirmed “significant” property losses across the region.
Police in New South Wales (NSW) confirmed Tuesday that two men, believed to be father and son, died in a house in the wildfire-ravaged southeast town of Cobargo, while there are fears for another man missing.
“They were obviously trying to do their best with the fire as it came through in the early hours of the morning,” New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said. “The other person that we are trying to get to, we think that person was trying to defend their property in the early hours of the morning.”
The two confirmed deaths raise the toll to at least 12 in Australia’s wildfires, which also have razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months.
A firefighter died Monday when extreme winds flipped his truck. Samuel McPaul, 28, was the third volunteer firefighter in New South Wales to have died in the past two weeks. He was an expectant father.
Sydney was also cloaked in smoke on Tuesday, as intense heat and winds fuelled wildfires in Australia’s southeast. Despite some community concerns, authorities said the city’s annual New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular would go ahead.
Authorities urged holiday-makers in New South Wales (NSW) to head to beaches to avoid fires inland of popular resort towns, where campgrounds and caravan parks are packed.
“Seeking shelter and shoring up your security closer to the beach … is a much safer option,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Most of the blazes have been sparked by lightning, he said, warning that conditions were volatile, with fires potentially smouldering following lightning strikes from the past two or three days.
“Under the hot, dry windy conditions we’re expecting today there’s every chance we could see new fires start as a result of some of that activity,” Fitzsimmons said.
Fire authorities gave the all-clear for the New Year’s Eve fireworks display over Sydney Harbour, even after some in the community and a state Labor politician pressed for it to be called off, citing fears of fire risk and in solidarity with other towns in the region that have been forced to cancel.
“Many of us have mixed feelings about this evening, but the important thing we take out of this is that we’re a resilient state,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
“I don’t want to take a second away from the deep sense of loss and tragedy many people are feeling across the state,” she said. On Monday, a volunteer firefighter lost his life, the third to die since the recent spate of wildfires began.
The 28-year-old firefighter’s truck was blown over by extremely strong winds. Fitzsimmons said fire crews had described the scene as “truly horrific, a fire tornado.”
Australia’s wildfires have razed more than 1,000 homes in the past few months, with the most-populous state of New South Wales bearing the brunt.