Bush fires trap tourists as death toll rises in fight to control blazes
A third Australian firefighter has died battling blazes in New South Wales, while in Victoria thousands of visitors who ignored warnings to leave a holiday region are now trapped by bush fires.
The fireman died and two others suffered burns when a truck rolled over as they fought a blaze in Green Valley, near the Victoria border, yesterday. It is believed it was tipped over by strong winds.
Officials urged anyone in East Gippsland, a region half the size of Belgium, to evacuate. As well as residents, around 30,000 tourists at Lakes Entrance, a popular holiday destination, were affected.
Andrew Crisp, Victoria's emergency management commissioner, said the window of opportunity to flee Lakes Entrance would close quickly. "If you're not out by 9am there is every chance you won't be able to leave," he said.
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Darren Martin, the caretaker of Lakes Entrance Recreation and Camping Reserve, said many seemed to have ignored the warning.
"All of the people in our caravan park have been coming back and forth for years and seem to think they would bunker down and just hope for the best," he said.
Maximum temperatures across East Gippsland yesterday ranged from 37.7C-48.9C. It is unknown how many people remain in the area, but fires in the vicinity have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares and with high temperatures and strong winds, the danger remains high.
Elsewhere in Victoria, evacuation warnings were issued in eight shires. Properties on the northern outskirts of Melbourne were damaged as firefighters fought to keep the blaze out of the city. Residents in four suburbs were told to leave their homes.
New Year's Eve fireworks in Canberra have been cancelled, and pressure was yesterday building for Sydney's iconic celebrations to be scrapped. Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the spectacle should be called off. "The risk is too high and we must respect our exhausted volunteers," he wrote on social media.
However, Scott Morrison, the prime minister, said the show would go ahead as a symbol of Australian "optimism".