Australia wildfires: Thousands race to beaches for safety as death toll rises

Australians on east coast see in new year under blood-red skies as record-breaking bushfires claim more lives

Zoe Tidman
Tuesday 31 December 2019 10:25
Australia wildfires: Crowds flee to beach to take shelter

Thousands of people have fled to beaches on Australia’s east coast to escape the wildfires tearing towards the coast.

Around 4,000 people have left their homes in Victoria and have been urged to move into the sea if the blazes around them continue to worsen.

Some have been forced to camp on wharves or have been rescued by boat after multiple fires surrounded the town of Mallacoota, cutting off-road access.

“Mallacoota is currently under attack,” Andrew Crisp, the state’s emergency commissioner said.

“It is pitch-black, it is quite scary,” he said. “The community right now is under threat but we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected.”

The death toll from Australia’s fires has now risen to 12 after a father and son died in the early hours defending their home in New South Wales. Five others have been reported missing.

The military has now been sent in to help emergency services dealing with blazes in two regions.

Army aircraft will go to Victoria and military ships will travel to the area where Mallacoota lies in New South Wales, the Australian minister of defence said.

Since blazes started in September, five million hectares (12 million acres) of land have been torched, covering an area larger than the size of Belgium. ​

Emergency services officials said it was possible towns in this Gippsland area could be evacuated by sea as the fires, which are being fanned by strong winds, continued.

Authorities urged tens of thousands of residents and tourists to evacuate Victoria at the weekend as they predicted Tuesday would be one of the most significant fire weather days in the state’s history.

People take shelter on a boat just offshore as bushfires rage in the area around Mallacoota

Fires have also caused extensive damage in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

Scott Morrison, the prime minister, has vowed Sydney’s firework display for New Year’s Eve will go ahead.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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