This article titled “Firefighter dies as emergency fire warnings in place across multiple states – as it happened” was written by Helen Davidson (now), and Naaman Zhou and Luke Henriques-Gomes (earlier), for theguardian.com on Monday 30th December 2019 09.40 UTC
- A firefighter has been killed and three taken to hospital when extreme winds associated with a bushfire near Jingellic rolled two vehicles. That fire is currently burning across the border of NSW and Victoria.
- Multiple properties are feared lost but there have been no confirmations.
- Fires are creating their own storms, generating lightning in some firegrounds.
- Currently there are 14 emergency warnings for fires in Victoria, largely concentrated in the East Gippsland area. About 40,000 people were urged to leave the area ahead of extreme fire danger today, but many remained.
- Homes and lives are under threat and in many places people have been told it is too late to leave and they need to take shelter.
- Roads in and out of Lakes Entrance are closed, and the Princes Highway was also closed.
- An emergency-level fire broke out in the suburban Melbourne area of Bundoora, threatening homes.
- In NSW there are four emergency-level fires (including that one near Jingellic).
- Tasmanian fire authorities have issued four emergency warnings stemming from two fires – one near Pelham in the south and another near Fingal in the north-east.
- All six states as well as the Northern Territory reached temperatures exceeding 40C today, with Hobart recording its hottest December day.
- The NSW fire service has given the green light the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks display, after widespread debate about whether it should go ahead.
- Canberra and Parramatta are among the cities and councils across NSW and the ACT to cancel their fireworks displays because of the high fire danger.
- The Falls Festival in Lorne has been cancelled because of the fire risk, and a number of artists are hastily organising individual concerts, with proceeds going to firefighters and those affected.
Updated at 9.40am GMT
A south-westerly change is expected around midnight in the East Gippsland region and will likely drive fires in a north-easterly direction.
Fires are threatening homes and lives and in many places it is too late to leave. Check with the CFA website and local emergency information providers for more details.
Firefighters are “undertaking asset protection in private property” at Bruthen and Ramrod Creek, the CFA says.
The Marthavale-Barmouth Spur fire there is out of control and subject to an emergency warning. It has created a large column and is dropping embers and creating spot fires. It’s currently north of Bruthen.
Aircraft are tasked to assess a fire situation near Suggan Buggan but haven’t been able to do so recently, the CFA says.
Updated at 9.13am GMT
The NSW RFS has released a little more information about the incident near Jingellic in the state’s south, where a firefighter died this evening.
The two firefighters who were injured, suffering burns, have been taken to hospital. A second vehicle working in the area was also blown over by the extreme winds associated with the fire and the firefighter on board has also been taken to hospital.
“The service’s thoughts are with all the firefighters’ families, friends, and fellow brigade members,” the RFS said.
There are 14 emergency warnings in the state of Victoria due to these awful bushfires.
The most recent warning from the CFA is for those in and around Mallacoota where it is too late to leave and people must take shelter indoors immediately to survive.
“Leaving now would be deadly,” the CFA said.
The Genoa-Mallacoota Road is closed, so there is no way in or out.
The bushfire is travelling from Wingan River towards Mallacoota, and there is potential for lightning associated with fire smoke.
A south-westerly wind change is expected to reach Mallacoota by 4am, with winds gusting at 40-60km/h.
This warning was issued for Genoa, Gipsy Point, Karbethong, Lake View, Mallacoota, Maramingo Creek, Wallagaraugh, Wangarabell, Wingan River and Wroxham.
(Note, with the photo below, Rachel Hocking has corrected to say it was taken at Tamboon, about 20km from Lakes Entrance.)
Updated at 8.46am GMT
The Tasmanian Fire Service says there are unconfirmed reports of houses having been lost at Mangana, near Fingal, in the state’s north-east.
Peter Middleton, from the fire service, told local ABC the fire danger in affected parts of the state was in the very high-to-severe range and would continue into the night.
As previously reported, Fingal, Mangana and Tower Hill are considered at severe risk over the next 90 minutes. An evacuation centre at Fingal has been moved east to St Marys hall.
Middleton said: “We’ve heard there are possible house losses… but certainly don’t have anything confirmed to say how many.”
The state’s other significant fire, near Pelham, is heading towards Elderslie and Broadmarsh, fanned by a strong westerly. “There is serious concern for those areas because of the winds we’re getting at the moment,” Middleton said.
The evacuation centre for the Pelham fire is at Brighton Civic Centre.
Firefighter killed, two injured, east of Albury
A NSW firefighter has died and two others have suffered burns while battling the fire at Jingellic, east of Albury.
The RFS said it’s believed their truck was hit by extreme winds and rolled.
This is a fire that has crossed the state border into Victoria, and is threatening Walwa, Guys Forest, Mount Alfred, Cudgewa, Burrowye, where residents have been told they should evacuate immediately.
Updated at 8.18am GMT
There are four emergency warnings in Tasmania, stemming from two fires.
A bushfire will put Fingal as well as Mangana and Tower Hill at severe risk within the next 90 minutes, and will be difficult to control.
And that Pelham fire in the south has also sparked two warnings. One for Elderslie and Broadmarsh, which are expected to come under high risk now and into the evening.
The second warning is for Pelham and surrounding areas. The TFS says this fire will put lives in danger and may destroy homes in Pelham as well as surrounding areas. It is fast moving and burning in a south-easterly direction towards Horners Road Bluff Road, Elderslie and Broadmarsh.
“The fire is creating dangerous spot fires ahead of the main fire front.”
Updated at 8.15am GMT
There is a new emergency warning for a fire in NSW, in the Bega Valley to the north of Bemboka. People in the area from Yankees Gap to Bemboka are advised to leave now towards Bega if that is their fire plan or if they are not prepared. People in Numbugga should watch out for embers and spot fires, and monitor conditions.
According to Live Traffic, the Snowy Mountains Highway is closed in both directions from Steeple Flat to Bega, between Monaro Highway and Princes Highway.
The NSW RFS has published a series of pretty worrying maps ahead of conditions worsening tomorrow.
With fires burning around the border region of NSW and Victoria, we are starting to see single fires burning in two states. We’ll do our best to stay on top of those, but bear in mind the separate state fire authorities give different names to the fires, with state-specific warnings and information.
The CFA has issued an emergency warning for Walwa, Mount Alfred, Guys Forest, Burrowye, Cudgewa, Cudgewa North and Tintaldra.
The fire is 13km west-north-west of Walwa (referred to in NSW as the emergency level fire at Green Valle, Talmalmo) and is not under control. It has crossed the border and is moving in a south-easterly direction towards Walwa and Shelley Walwa Road.
The CFA warns it could impact Walwa within the next three hours, and that leaving now is the safest option.
The NSW RFS describes this fire as burning in the Jingellic area to the east of Albury, increasing in the area of River Road on the north side of the Murray River, where crews are working to protect property.
It is too late to leave for NSW residents in the area of River Road and Jingellic. Seek shelter as the fire approaches.
Updated at 7.34am GMT
We are hearing reports on the ground that the fire is within 10km of Bairnsdale.
At 2.30pm, Gippsland fire incident controller Ben Rankin said the fire had yet to leave public land, apart from the occasional spot fire in a paddock at Tambo Crossing.
Jenny and Alan Blair were planning to leave their house on Orrs Road, Wy Yung, when embers began to fall in their backyard. They did not last that long.
At 4pm, Jenny says, she looked outside and saw two huge columns of smoke, from the Barmouth Spur and W Tree fires, bearing down on their 15-acre property.
“We didn’t see embers but we just saw that,” Jennys says.
“It was like: look, we have to go now.”
Alan was planning to stay, but changed his mind when he saw the scale of the fire. Soon after they left, a neighbour who remained said the fire had reached Orrs Road. It’s a long road, says Jenny.
The house might be OK. Or it might not.
They are staying with their son in the other side of town.
“We have a spare room that we were planning to offer to people who need it,” Jenny said. “Now we’ll be in someone’s spare room.”
Updated at 7.05am GMT
While the Sydney fireworks are going ahead, National Parks and Wildlife have decided to close the viewing areas at North Head and Bradley’s Head (ticket holders for the latter will be refunded).
This decision was made in the interest of public safety due to the severe fire danger and very high winds predicted for tomorrow.
Emergency vehicles, residents, and Q Station guests will still have access to North Head Scenic Drive, but that road and the top part of Darley Road will be closed from 8am.
Updated at 6.55am GMT
Sydney fireworks can go ahead, says RFS
The NSW Rural Fire Service has given the green light to Sydney’s New Years Eve fireworks show tomorrow.
Regional fireworks shows have been cancelled or postponed across the state because of the fire risk, and just a few hours ago the Parramatta city council also announced they were cancelling their show. This morning the deputy premier, John Barilaro, said it was “an easy decision” and called for Sydney’s to be canned.
But the City of Sydney – amid much debate – said it wouldn’t cancel unless the RFS asked them too.
A short time ago the RFS approved the event, and said they were assessing a few other exemptions to the total fire ban.
Updated at 6.45am GMT
16 emergency warnings across the country
There are 11 emergency warnings for fires in Victoria, four in NSW, and one in Tasmania.
Victoria’s warnings are spread across the East Gippsland region, in suburban Melbourne, and in the Burrowa Pine Mountain national park.
The four in NSW are at Talmalmo, Dunns Road, Charleys Forest, and Wyndham.
Tasmania’s is at Pelham.
Updated at 6.33am GMT
Over in the UK, the BBC has put climate change and the Australian bushfires at the top of its news agenda on Radio 4.
Back in November the BBC announced that Greta Thunberg would be a guest editor of its flagship radio news programme, Today.
The bushfire crisis here was the number two item, after climate change warnings from the governor of the reserve bank.
The programme’s producers also arranged for Thunberg to meet Sir David Attenborough.
Three houses have sustained minor damage in the bushfire at Bundoora.
“MFB and CFA firefighters remain on scene to continue tackling the blaze with a wind change expected to come through this evening,” the Melbourne Fire Brigade said.
A waterbombing aircraft is among more than 20 appliances on the scene in suburban Melbourne.
Chris Hopkins and Calla Wahlquist have been out at Bairnsdale today.
These photos from Hopkins show the 12km-high smoke plume from two merged fires – the W Tree fire and the Barmouth Spur fire.
Updated at 7.02am GMT
Hobart records hottest December day
Hobart is among a list of Tasmanian centres to have experienced their hottest December day on record, the Bureau of Meteorology says.
The temperature in the state capital peaked at 40.8C shortly before 2pm. The previous benchmark for December was 40.6C, set 122 years ago in 1897.
The unusually high Tasmanian temperatures meant all six states and the Northern Territory recorded temperatures north of 40C. It reached 41.9C in Adelaide and, at the time of writing, 40.8C in Melbourne. Avalon Airport, between Melbourne and Geelong, hit 44.4C, and Alice Springs reached 42C.
The hottest place in the country was Onslow, in the Pilbara, with 46.9C. Marree, in northern South Australia, reached 46.7C; Birdsville, in south-west Queensland, 46.3C.
Jonathan How, forecaster with the bureau’s Australian weather desk, said it was not unusual for all mainland states to reach 40C on the same summer day but it was rare for Tasmania to join them. “It’s not something you see all the time,” he said.
The list of Tasmanian places to set maximum temperature records for December included Launceston (equalling the previously mark of 34.1C), Cape Bruny (39.2C) and Mount Wellington (28.6C).
In Victoria, there were new December highs at Wilsons Promontory (40.2C), Wangaratta (43.1C) and several centres in fire affected Gippsland including Bairnsdale (43.6C), Orbost (43.1C) and East Sale (43.5C).
Updated at 5.59am GMT
Emergency warning for Tasmania
There is an emergency alert for a bushfire in Tasmania.
An uncontrolled fire has broken out at Pelham with fire authorities warning it will put lives in danger and may destroy homes.
“This fire will be uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast moving,” the alert says.
“Thick smoke and thousands of embers will cause fires all around you. Fires will move quickly and may come from many directions.”
The Tasmanian Fire Service (TFS) says the safest course of action is to evacuate now, but if you don’t have a safe route to a safer place, shelter inside your home until the fire passes.
Updated at 5.29am GMT
Bairnsdale incident controller Ben Rankin updates reporters on bushfires in Victoria’s East Gippsland area. Rankin says the area is facing extreme fire danger.
“We will get big column development today and quite significant runs of fire if anything breaks out of the control lines we’ve currently got,” Rankin says.
He says a cool change expected around midnight will present its own challenges and may lead to new runs of fire.
Updated at 5.28am GMT
Hello, this is Helen Davidson with you again, for the rest of the day’s live coverage of the bushfire situation across multiple states.
A quick couple of stats via AAP on the Victorian fires.
There are more than 10 burning in East Gippsland, including three that have been going for more than a month.
Overnight 16 fires in the state were started by lightning strikes.
One of them, which started between Cann River and Mallacoota, travelled 24km in six hours overnight, creating a 14km high plume and its own dry lightning.
Water bombers have been deployed in Bundoora in Melbourne.
Emergency warning for Bundoora and Mill Park
An emergency warning has been issued for Bundoora, Greensborough and Mill Park in the suburbs of Melbourne
The fire is threatening homes and lives.
“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive”, the CFA says. “The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave”.
“This message is for people at North of Metropolitan Ring Road between Scholar Drive And Booyan Court. There is a bushfire at Jubilee Cr, Mill Park that is not yet under control.
“The bushfire is travelling from Jubilee Crescent in a southerly direction towards Cloverton Way. The fire started near Cloverton Way in Bundoora.”
Updated at 4.59am GMT
Andrew Crisp, the Victorian emergency management commissioner, says a “lot of people” stayed at Lakes Entrance.
“On the other hand, we know there was quite long streams of traffic leaving East Gippsland yesterday afternoon and into the evening,” he adds.
He also says “these aren’t the last of the warnings we’ll see today. There’ll be more coming out.”
Outside of East Gippsland, the major concerns for authorities are the fire at Lexton, west of Avoca, and the two in the Plenty Gorge, he says.
Victorian emergency services minister Lisa Neville says it is likely that the Princes Highway “will fully close at some point to Bairnsdale right through to Mallacoota”.
“This is a warning to all Victorians,” she says. “This is not yet over … we’re really only halfway through what is ahead of us here today.”
“We’re seeing a different kind of thunderstorm,” says Andrew Tupper from the Bureau of Meteorology. These are known as pyro-cumulonimbus – which basically means a fire-generated thunderstorm.
“The way that they work is basically the fires give them an extra push in conditions that would normally be suitable, or marginally suitable, for thunderstorms. As they give them that push, the thunderstorms can develop more rapidly than they normally would.
“They carry fire embers aloft, which can help the spread of those fires, accelerate the spread of those fires, they can push those embers down with the severe wind gusts that the thunderstorms generate. And overall they can greatly contribute to unexpected fire spread in unexpected directions.”
Updated at 4.50am GMT
Conditions are so dangerous, the fires are generating lightning, the CFA says.
“The fire that started yesterday afternoon near Mallacoota is an excellent example about the fire behaviour that we’ve seen.
“So a fire that started mid to late afternoon, started to move towards the Princes Highway. The wind changed direction and, within four or five hours, that fire travelled all the way to the coast – about 24km.
“It put up a column, punching into the atmosphere 14km high. We recently looked at the columns, and they’re generating their own weather. There’s lightning coming out of these columns. It is unpredictable, it’s dangerous out there.”
Updated at 4.50am GMT
Another press conference in Victoria.
“You should not be on the roads” in East Gippsland, authorities say.
“We have the W Tree fire running towards the coast and we believe it could impact on the Princes Highway between 5pm and 7pm this evening.
“We have been telling people for more than 24 hours East Gippsland is at significant risk in relation to fire. Earlier today, we changed our messaging to say that you should not be on the roads.
“You need to follow, very, very closely, the instructions in those warnings. With those emergency warnings, a lot will say “Shelter in place” but, at times, they will give you options of how you might be able to get out of that particular area.”
Ninth emergency warning for Victoria
Another emergency warning has been issued for Burrowye, Cudgewa, Cudgewa North, Guys Forest, Mount Alfred, Pine Mountain, Tintaldra, Walwa.
This fire is further away from the other eight fires in East Gippsland.
The fire is 13km west-north-west of Walwa, travelling in a south-easterly direction towards Walwa.
This bushfire could impact Walwa and surrounding towns any time in the next one hour.
Murray River will be closed between Walwa and Burrowye.
“Leaving now is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous,” the CFA says. “Emergency Services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay.”
Updated at 4.42am GMT
And an update on the emergency warning for Goongerah, Martins Creek, Nurran, Sardine Creek and Errinundra.
The fire is now impacting private property, according to the CFA.
Meanwhile in NSW.
New emergency fires in Vic and NSW
Another emergency fire in Victoria – taking the count to eight right now.
The new warning is for Bruthen, Bullumwaal, Clifton Creek, Deptford, Fairhope, Fairy Dell, Granite Rock, Mossiface, Mount Taylor, Sarsfield, Waterholes.
“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.”
At the same time, in NSW, an emergency warning has been issued for Dunns Road.
“There is another lightning storm forecast to come across today. It has a very serious, very serious risk of starting fires. We are concerned that the lightning ignitions will give us a lot of problems going forward.”
New fires should be reported via 000.
Updated at 4.14am GMT
Tasmanian fire authorities are also speaking now.
In Strathgordon, an emergency alert has been issued for travellers and tourists, but not for residents.
The fire remains at watch and act for residents. The two should not be confused, the TFS says.
Updated at 4.09am GMT
During that press conference, an emergency warning was also issued in South Australia for an area near the Playford Highway on Kangaroo Island. But that was downgraded to watch and act a few minutes ago.
Updated at 4.09am GMT
It will take “weeks or months” for the fires to be put out, the CFA says.
“At this stage, substantial rain is what is required to bring these to a halt.” That is not forecast in the near future.
“I think anyone now in Gippsland, who are seeing the columns out there and seeing the fires starting would know that it is a very risky day, and I’m hoping that they will take the advice that has been given in the messages that are coming out from this service.”
The CFA says they have 14 aircraft operating on the Lakes Entrance fire at this stage.
Updated at 3.57am GMT
The CFA say that conditions will worsen in the next few hours.
“Over the next few hours we will see more of the spot fires developing and more of them are running down towards the south-east with the north-westerly wind behind them. We will see further runs of fire, quite some distances as we go into the afternoon”.
The forecast south-westerly wind will give them “control issues”. But after that, they are hopeful that they will “see a bit of a settling in the fire weather”.
Updated at 3.58am GMT
The CFA is giving a press conference now in Bairnsdale.
They say that towns in most danger are: Bruthen, Buchan and Buchan South, Goongerah (which has already been evacuated) and “the coastal strip across to Mallacoota”.
They say they are unaware of any impact on private land – so far only public land has been affected.
Updated at 3.46am GMT
Severe thunderstorms are forecast for South Australia and Tasmania – both have a risk of starting new fires.
In Victoria, the southerly is on its way.
Updated at 3.39am GMT
An update on the Wingan River, Furnell, Tamboon South fire, which is at emergency level.
The CFA advises that the Princes Highway is now closed from Bruthen through to the Genoa intersection. And the road north of Genoa to Eden remains open but may close at any time.
The fire is currently approximately 20km east of Cann River.
All roads into the warning area are closed including the West Wingan Road.
Updated at 3.35am GMT
Hobart breaks December heat record
Hobart has just registered its highest temperature in December on record. It hit 40.8C in the city at 1.47pm, before dropping to 39.8C.
Updated at 3.31am GMT
Marilyn Withers is sitting in her car with the air conditioner running in an attempt to cool down her dogs, Majic and Puku. The 77-year-old lives at Nicholson, about 20km east of Bairnsdale, but was told to leave the eight-acre property this morning by her son. He is planning to stay and defend.
Withers is emotional at the thought of losing her house, where she lived for six years while caring for her husband. He died earlier this year and her son, Mitch, 57, has been staying with her since.
“It is really tough, I didn’t want to leave the house,” Withers said. “I didn’t know really where to go. Really nobody is telling you where to go.”
She has packed her car with blankets, a few changes of clothes, and all her photo albums. A sun tent is set up next to the car, but it is being flattened by the wind. The towering plume of smoke from the Bruthen fire can be seen in the distance.
Withers says she plans to go home tonight – provided the road is open. In the meantime she is wetting towels in the river in an attempt to keep her dogs cool.
Updated at 3.40am GMT
We have also updated our interactive map tracking the total amount of land burned this fire season. The new total is 4.6m hectares, across New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.
Updated at 3.41am GMT
Emergency warning for Buchan
An emergency warning has just been issued for Buchan, Buchan South and Sunny Point.
That makes it seven emergency level fires burning at the same time in East Gippsland.
The CFA advises that spot fires might be started by embers.
“There is a bushfire to your west that is not yet under control. Fire activity has now increased and produced a significant smoke column.
“A severe thunder storm warning has been issued for East Gippsland for damaging and locally destructive winds.
“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.”
Updated at 3.10am GMT
If you’re mourning the lost fireworks, rapper Baker Boy has announced he is throwing a charity party today in Melbourne, after the heat and fire risk cancelled the Falls Festival in Lorne.
All profits go to the CFA.
Irene McCarthy and Hugh Hunter decided to pack their caravan and leave their home at Metung, on the East Gippsland coast, on Monday morning. They had been watching the fire building at Bruthen for the past few days and woke to the news of five more fires started in their area due to lightning strikes.
“Our community safer place is the Metung yacht and golf club,” McCarthy said. “We were told at the community meeting this morning that it would not be defended. And that was it for us… it was that which decided us on coming down here.”
They made the half-hour drive to Bairnsdale with their daughter and son-in-law, who are visiting from Melbourne, and pulled up at Howitt Park, on the Mitchell River, reckoning that it would be nicer than camping at the treeless football oval. A number of neighbours from Metung are there – it’s a heavily wooded place.
It is “very hot and very unpleasant”, McCarthy said. She is sitting in the shade to escape the heat, but it’s not working – she has to put her head between her knees. She and Hunter moved from the UK 12 years ago.
“Most of the time we absolutely love it,” Hunter said. “Last night was not one of those ‘love it’ nights.”
They have considered the possibility that they might lose the house.
“At the end of the day it’s just a house,” McCarthy said. “What will be will be.”
Updated at 3.02am GMT
More road closures.
Every state hits 40C
Every state has now hit 40C temperatures. And that includes Tasmania, with an astonishing maximum of 40.2C.
Fires are also burning in Tasmania, and storms have been forecast that could start even more with lightning strikes.
This is Naaman Zhou taking over the blog from Helen Davidson.
Sky News is reporting that all fireworks displays in East Gippsland have been cancelled for tomorrow night’s New Year’s Eve.
Updated at 2.38am GMT
Updated at 2.55am GMT
Six emergency fires in East Gippsland
The CFA has just declared more emergency level fires in the East Gippsland area.
These are the latest updates from the CFA in the last 10 minutes, adding to previous updates about emergency fires near Goongerah, Butchers Ridge, Reedy Flat and Suggan Buggan.
This fire has increased rapidly in size, and is out of control. It is approximately 20km east of Cann River with easterly winds putting pressure on the western side of the fire.
The warning applies to Furnell, Tamboon South and Wingan River.
A bushfire north of Bruthen is out of control. It’s travelling south from Boys Camp Road towards Ramrod Creek, and could impact within the next hour. Leaving now is the safest option.
Edit: This post has been edited to remove a reference to evacuation orders for Goongerah and Martins Creek. The current CFA warnings say it is too late to leave and the safest option is to take shelter indoors.
Updated at 2.33am GMT
The Princes Highway is also now closed between Cann River and the Genoa intersection. Do not head north from Cann River on the Princes Highway if you are travelling.
Updated at 2.13am GMT
This is Helen Davidson taking over the blog from Luke Henriques-Gomes.
An emergency warning has been issued for Goongerah, Martins Creek, Sardine Creek, Errinundra and Nurran, where it is too late to leave and the safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately.
This is an upgrade in severity from the watch and act warning issued this morning.
The CFA says the bushfire, which is west of Goongerah and south-west of Bonang, remains out of control and fire activity is increasing. There are two significant columns building in the south-eastern corner of the fire, heading towards Goongerah and Martins Creek.
The fire is threatening homes and lives.
Updated at 2.08am GMT
Some temperatures in the East Gippsland region so far today:
Orbost was recorded at 43.1C at 12.15pm, while Bairnsdale was at 42.1C at 12.25pm.
Lives under threat at Tambo Crossing and Wattle Circle
An updated emergency alert has been issued for Reedy Flat, Tambo Crossing, Wattle Circle and Ensay South. Lives and homes are under threat.
- The fire north-west of Tambo Crossing is out of control.
- This fire is moving in a south-easterly direction towards Tambo Crossing and Wattle Circle and is likely to impact these communities any time between 12pm and 2pm today.
- It is too late to leave.
- This fire is threatening homes and lives.
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.
This fire will cross the Great Alpine Road and residents in Tambo Crossing and Wattle Circle should NOT travel north towards Swifts Creek.
Updated at 1.49am GMT
Photographer Chris Hopkins is travelling with our reporter Calla Wahlquist today. He took these images of emergency service workers and evacuated families in Bairnsdale, just to the west of the threatened region of East Gippsland.
Updated at 1.38am GMT
About 1,000 firefighters, a mixture of department and CFA volunteers, had been positioned at strategic locations around East Gippsland today and tasked with protecting key assets and communities. It was too dangerous to send firefighters into the forest itself.
Rankin said that not all of the properties and small towns throughout East Gippsland were “fully defendable” and if the fire behaved in a particularly aggressive way even towns like Metung could be at risk.
“I don’t want to make judgments about specific towns because if the fire behaves really aggressively it could move more into towns.”
He advised everyone in the East Gippsland and Gippsland area to listen to ABC local radio, keep on top of fire alerts, and follow their bushfire safety plan.
Updated at 1.23am GMT
The Gippsland fires are being managed by Delwp because they are primarily on crown land. Firefighters in lime green overalls, many of whom have taken on the role as a summer job from university, are leaving the centre in groups holding biodegradable plastic bags filled with provisions.
The incident controller Ben Rankin said the conditions were “quite extreme” for Gippsland, “comparable almost to Black Saturday in some ways, if the forecast does eventuate as given to us”.
The text message sent to everyone in East Gippsland on Sunday, telling them to get out, angered some locals and had been ignored by some tourists. Rankin said that larger tourist towns – like Lakes Entrance itself, not the parks or small campgrounds surrounding it – would be a “relatively safe place to go today”.
He said the warning was issued to ensure people knew the risk and that people remained off the road on Monday afternoon and evening, when it was likely fires would cut off the Princes Highway.
“If we get through today and we don’t have a significant fire run within this area I am speaking of in East Gippsland, we would be very fortunate.”
Updated at 1.21am GMT
The perimeter of the largest fires in East Gippsland is more than 1,000km long and any area near that perimeter should be considered a risk today, authorities say.
“I think it’s inevitable that there will be some significant run of fire today,” said the Gippsland fires incident controller Ben Rankin.
“Where that occurs we will have to react to that as best we can. There is a large perimeter of fire, well over 1,000km of fire perimeter, and on a day like today none of it can be guaranteed to be safe.
“There is a risk that it would run, and already we are starting to see a significant buildup of some of the fires now, and in the next hour or two we will start to see some movement I would think.”
Rankin addressed local media outside the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (Delwp) headquarters in Bairnsdale a short time ago.
Updated at 1.17am GMT
As we hit midday, here is what we know so far:
- There are now four emergency alerts and four watch and act alerts in place in Victoria’s east.
- Holidaymakers in East Gippsland were warned to leave before 9am today, but some have stayed.
- A fire at Mallacoota is generating its own lightning, while two bushfires near Ensay and Tambo Crossing merged and remain very active.
- In South Australia, firefighters are battling catastrophic fire conditions in the Adelaide Hills, mid-north and Yorke Peninsula.
- Hobart is tipped to reach 40C, as Tasmania also braces for a day of fire danger.
Updated at 1.15am GMT
Another emergency warning has been issued in Victoria, this time for Suggan Buggan. That is in the Alpine region, right on the border with NSW.
Emergency Services Victoria says:
- There is a bushfire at 5km north of Suggan Buggan that is not yet under control.
- This fire is becoming increasingly active and travelling south.
- There is also a fire in NSW 13km north of Suggan Buggan moving south towards Victoria that has produced a significant smoke column.
Updated at 12.46am GMT
This was the scene at a fire at Cabbage Tree Creek yesterday.
A new emergency warning is in place in Gelantipy, Wulgulmerang, Wulgulmerang East. Those are townships in East Gippsland.
The CFA says:
- There is a bushfire 5 km west of Wulgulmerang that is not yet under control.
- It is too late to leave, this fire is moving rapidly.
- This fire is threatening homes and lives.
“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.”
NSW deputy premier wants Sydney fireworks cancelled
Over in NSW, the deputy premier, John Barilaro, has called for Sydney’s NYE fireworks display to be cancelled.
The Nationals leader has shared that view in a tweet posted this morning.
It puts him at odds with the City of Sydney, which says the fireworks will proceed, and the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, who has also said they should go ahead unless the NSW RFS says otherwise.
Some more from AAP.
Some communities have decided to cancel or postpone their fireworks displays, including Armidale in the state’s north and Huskisson on the state’s south.
More than 250,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Sydney fireworks to be scrapped, with funding redirected to drought and bushfire relief.
The city’s famous celebrations are expected to attract one million people to the harbour foreshore and generate 0 million for the NSW economy.
Just to follow up the fire at Mallacoota that is generating its own lightning. Guardian Australia environment reporter Graham Redfearn put together this piece on Pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCB) this month.
Updated at 12.13am GMT
About a dozen holiday makers with caravans and tents have set up temporarily in Howitt Park, Bairnsdale, after being advised to leave East Gippsland.
Among them are Craig Anderson and Brendan Gaffey and their families. They had been camping at Kalimna near Lakes Entrance since Saturday and are hoping to return tomorrow to finish their week-long holiday before returning to Melbourne.
“Today is the only day that is forecast to be really bad,” Anderson said. “Hopefully if it doesn’t go terribly we can go back.”
Anderson said there were still some people at the caravan park at Kalimna when they left this morning, including a number of permanent residents. He and Gaffey and their families decided not to risk it.
“If the highway is closed we would rather be on this side of it,” Anderson said. “We had wanted to come into Bairnsdale anyway to do a bit of shopping, and we thought we may as well just do that and bring our gear with us just in case.”
Updated at 11.57pm GMT
Here is some more information about this from the Bom website:
Pyrocumulonimbus clouds are a thunderstorm that forms in the smoke plume of a fire (or nuclear bomb blast, or volcanic ash cloud). In Australia they most commonly form in large and intense bushfire smoke plumes. (The official name for clouds that form this way is ‘flammagenitus’, but they’re commonly known as pyrocumulonimbus.)
I’ve been chatting with the author and journalist Lucie Morris-Marr, who has been sharing updates from Gippsland at @luciemorrismarr on Twitter.
Morris-Marr was holidaying with her family at Metung, East Gippsland and received the evacuation warning text message. She left with her family this morning, but others have decided to stay.
We were all seeing the warnings on phones and TV but the local shop keepers etc were being very laidback and saying they didn’t think Metung was in danger,” Morris-Marr says.
So I felt many tourists were being guided by what the view was on the ground. Many had paid for apartments and travelled from as far as Bendigo and just didn’t want the hassle of packing up.
I’ve covered bushfires in my career as a reporter, and I’ll never forget going into the Wye River on Boxing Day in 2015 after a fire destroyed nearly the whole area and multiple houses. Fire behaviour is so unpredictable and it’s just not worth the risk. Just because you are near the beach or a lake system doesn’t mean you’re immune.
Some tourists in our resort in Metung said their plan if the fire hit was to escape by boat.”
Updated at 11.29pm GMT
Calla is on the road in Gippsland with photographer Chris Hopkins. You’ll remember the Victorian emergency services commissioner Andrew Crisp said those looking to evacuate should do so before 9am. Calla tells me there are not too many cars on the road where she is.
My colleague Ben Smee has this story today about the push to declare a climate emergency. It’s definitely worth a read. Ben writes: “In Australia, as ever when it comes to climate policy, the process has been polarising and frustrating.”
The Marlo Hotel is on the mouth of the Snowy River, near Orbost. It’s in the middle of the “leave now” area in East Gippsland.
But Pete, who works at the hotel, said that locals who received the warning text thought it was “a bit of a joke”.
It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf,” he said. “But the authorities are bedevilled if they do and bedevilled if they don’t. If they don’t tell people to get out and there’s another fire, and everyone tries to evacuate at once, that will be a problem.”
The hotel has had a few cancellations, and some tourists have said they are leaving. The impact on local businesses could be severe.
“This is the time of year where local businesses make their money,” he said. “More often than not it’s enough to get them through the quiet winter months to the next summer.”
Updated at 11.03pm GMT
I’ve had a look at some temperature observations across Victoria and SA.
At 9am, it was 37.5C in the Victorian town of Swan Hill, and 36.9C at Orbost in East Gippsland.
In South Australia, it hit 38C at Port Augusta in 8.45am.
Meanwhile, large parts of NSW are still burning. Severe fire danger is forecast for the state’s south.
Earlier on the ABC, the SA Country Fire Service’s chief officer Brenton Eden discussed the day’s conditions.
He says the state will face a “dangerous short duration event of catastrophic fire weather”. Already, strong winds are causing havoc. The Cudlee Creek fire, which has been burning for four days, is sending out embers and causing trees to collapse.
If you’re thinking of doing your bushfire survival plan, stop thinking – do it now. The events of the day will be early. They will be before lunch. If you are not in a safe place, move to a safer place now and allow the fire service to combat whatever incidents arise.
Cann River fire generates own lightning: Vic CFA
Chris Eagle, the incident controller for the East Gippsland fires, has just spoken on ABC Gippsland.
He said the fire at Cann River, which is the cause of that emergency warning at Mallacoota, moved 24km in just six hours overnight.
It is now just 5km south of the Princes Highway. When the wind changes from the northwest to the southwest the highway is likely to be cut off.
That wind change will reach Sale at 10pm, Bairnsdale at 11.30pm and Mallacoota near midnight.
The smoke column for the Cann River fire is 14km high and making its own weather, Eagle said. That includes its own lightning.
Twelve new fires started on the Victorian side of the border overnight, and 10 in NSW that could be pushed south. Firefighters have been working on a control line on the southern side of the Marthavale/Bruthen fire, which has joined up to make a 105,000ha u-shaped blaze.
Eagle said they should be able to hold at least parts of that containment line today. Efforts will be concentrated on holding that line, not battling the front itself.
“This is not the day where we are going to pit firefighters in front of the fire,” he said.
Updated at 10.44pm GMT
Yesterday, organisers of the annual Falls Festival cancelled the multi-date event at Lorne, on Victoria’s Surf Coast.
There were some hastily organised shows last night in Melbourne and a few are also scheduled for today.
Overseas artists Halsey, Yungblud as well as local favourites Peking Duk said they would donate proceeds from their shows to Victoria’s Country Fire Authority.
Updated at 10.08pm GMT
This is from yesterday.
Swathes of southern Tasmania are tipped to reach 40C today. The BOM says the state’s heat record is 42.2C at Scamander in 2013.
Tasmania is also expecting a day of fire danger today.
AAP has filed this report.
Tasmanians have been urged to remain alert to fire risks as the state faces 40C temperatures in southern and eastern areas.
Hobart is forecast to reach 40C and Launceston is expecting a maximum temperature of 34C on Monday, with thunderstorms and wind gusts of 80 to 90km/h also forecast.
The forecast combination of heat, thunderstorms and wind gusts have triggered extreme and severe fire dangers warnings across the state.
“A total fire ban has been declared across the state and is set to continue until Tuesday morning,” emergency management minister Mark Shelton said.
“People are being urged to remain vigilant. It is vital that people know what to do if a fire threatens their home or property.”
Tasmanians were also encouraged to have a plan to keep in touch with older or sick relatives, friends and neighbours.
Tasmania Fire Services recommended people living in bushland areas to relocate to urban areas for Monday, and campers to reconsider their plans.
“As far as the fire danger goes, tomorrow has the potential to be a very bad day across large parts of the state,” Tasmania Fire Service chief officer Chris Arnol said.
“Although Tasmania’s fire agencies are well prepared, people can’t expect to see a fire truck in every driveway and an aircraft above every house.”
Updated at 9.47pm GMT
I mentioned earlier that there are warnings for catastrophic bushfire conditions in place today in SA.
Those have been issued for Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and Mount Lofty Ranges. Winds will likely exceed 90kmh in Maitland, Kingscote, Victor Harbor, Ardrossan and Warooka.
Conditions are expected to mirror those that sparked blazes in the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island recently.
Updated at 9.42pm GMT
Residents of the tiny village of Goongerah, on the Brodribb River, were ordered to evacuate on Saturday. It is in the path of three major fires and sandwiched between the Snowy River National Park and Errinundra National Park. Most residents heeded that warning.
But some, like Jill Redwood, who lives with two dogs, two Clydesdales and a few goats on an off-the-grid property just outside the village, are staying.
“We have been told there won’t be any emergency services in Goongerah, there won’t be any strike teams here,” Redwood said. “We will just be on our own. It’s too dangerous. And in the worst case scenario we could be cut off for three weeks.”
The local CFA fire truck will be in the area but Redwood said there may not be anyone left to man it, because “we will all be defending our own properties”.
Redwood has dealt with fire before. She has been a CFA volunteer for 20 years, done a stint on a fire tower, and defended her home at Goongerah against fires in 1983 and 2014. In both cases, the fire just missed her.
She said she has been preparing her property for two weeks and believes it is defendable. Her horses have lived through a bushfire before, and remained calm. In a worst case scenario, she said, she has a fire bunker (or “glorified wombat hole”) or will retreat to the dam or the river, both of which still have water in them.
“It is probably going to be a bad one, maybe worse than I have experienced before,” she said. “If I survive the day — well, hopefully I will. I might end up a stick of charcoal but I will do my best not to.”
Updated at 9.38pm GMT
Crisp says a cool change forecast for today will hit Melbourne about 7pm but won’t reach the fire grounds until midnight.
“That has the potential to create huge issues for us because we’ll have north-easterly winds pushing the fires down towards the coast,” he says.
This is a high risk day for Victoria, it is a day we don’t often see. The state is dry and it is going to be very hot and windy. People, get out now. If you don’t, you have got to stay across the conditions and listen to the warnings during the day.
Updated at 9.27pm GMT
Too late to leave after 9am: Authorities tell Gippsland holidaymakers
Crisp says many people have left the area but that a lot of tourists and holiday makers have remained.
Asked when it would be too late to leave, Crisp says 9am.
“If you’re not out by 9am there is every chance you won’t be able to leave,” Crisp says.
“We had a new fire near Cann River and had to close the Princes Highway for three hours. It is an example of what could happen today.”
Updated at 9.21pm GMT
My colleague Calla Wahlquist is on the ground in East Gippsland and has filed her first dispatch. I will bring that to you shortly.
But first, Victoria’s emergency services commissioner, Andrew Crisp is speaking on the ABC.
Let’s take a look at where warnings are already in place, starting in Victoria.
The area of East Gippsland, east of Melbourne, is a focus for Victorian authorities today. Yesterday, about 40,000 people were urged to leave the area ahead of extreme fire danger today. It is expected that three fires that burned over night will expand today.
The evacuation took place because authorities believe they may need to close the Princes Highway, meaning people would be left without a route to leave.
A total fire ban is in place across the state and temperatures will soar above 40C. The fire danger is rated as extreme in the Mallee, Wimmera, south-west, central, north-central and Northern Country districts and severe in East Gippsland and the north-east.
Below are the emergency warnings currently in place.
Good morning. I’m Luke Henriques-Gomes.
Thanks for joining us today for what is expected to be another dangerous summer day, with catastrophic conditions forecast in parts of South Australia and an extreme rating issued for Victoria.
Later in the day, we will turn our attention to Western Australia, where dangerous conditions are also predicted.
And in New South Wales, where dozens of fires are still burning, very high to severe warnings are in place in parts of the state.
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