The evacuation of the site is expected to take up much of the day, with devastated ticket holders waking to the news in perfect weather conditions.
Punters were being told not to camp in the Otways or any forested area, as emergency services were calling the fire risk ‘extreme’ and gusts of 90 to 100 kilometres per hour were forecast for Monday, along with possible lightning.
Event organisers said the decision was made with a “heavy heart”, but the extreme weather conditions expected brought risks of potential fires, smoke, severe winds and tree hazards.
“Forecasted conditions have gotten significantly worse in the past 12 hours, with information coming to light that has not been available to us before the event kicked off on December 28th,” organisers said in a statement online.
“After consultation with local and regional fire authorities and other emergency stakeholders, it is clear that we have no other option. The decision has not been made lightly, our patron and staff safety is our priority.”
Gates to the event site will close at 9am on Monday.
Those who drove from interstate say they’re yet to make sense of the news but many Victorians say they’re understanding of the extreme conditions.
Callum Robertson, from Geelong, and his four friends arrived on Saturday and planned to stay the entire four days, unanimously expecting Lewis Capaldi to be their highlight.
As word spread across campsites from 8am, they played his music on the car stereo as they packed.
“We understand the decision, we want to be safe,” he said. “We just feel for those who travelled from interstate.”
Concert veteran Warren Tharle, from Glen Iris, said like many he was now scrambling to make last minute holiday plans elsewhere in the state.
His silver lining though was seeing John Farnham play – including a rendition of Sadie, the Cleaning Lady – to a deafening all-age crowd.
On Saturday night Farnham said it if wasn’t for that 1967 song, “I wouldn’t be standing here right now”.
Lighters were replaced with mobile phones, albeit dying batteries, throughout the performance as he belted out an hour of undeniable classics.
On Sunday, as he packed up his camper van, Mr Tharle said he was relieved he got to see the man himself.
“If it wasn’t for John Farnham I probably wouldn’t have come,” he said. “That makes leaving now a little easier. It was awesome, so good, especially the keyboard playing.
“With the weather though you’re stuffed if you don’t leave now, how would you get out if it got worse?”
Event organisers said their priority this morning was to get everyone off site as safely as possible, noting the logistics of that were complex.
They said they were also in the process of contacting headline acts – who were due to arrive from midday – not to come.
While food venues, medical tents and sanitary facilities would remain open all day on Sunday, the festival’s music and bars are closed.
Kate Relf, 19, said she drove for more than eight hours with friends from Adelaide for the festival.
Ms Relf and her four friends – Emma Hoggson, Jade Rudiger, Monique Nicol and Taylor Golding – said they’d been planning the trip since August.
She said the expense had been more than $1000 each.
“It’s so depressing, all the money we’ve spent on the outfits,” she said.
Fellow Adelaide Hills resident Jade Rudiger was scathing, asking why organisers didn’t foresee the extreme weather danger with 40 degree temperatures predicted weeks ago.
“They know it’s a festival in the bush,” she said.
Inside the festival grounds dozens lined up for free breathe tests after leaarning they’d have to leave days earlier.
Most probationary drivers, many returned positive results and made for the shade of tents to sober up.
Organisers said all those who purchased a ticket will be refunded from Monday at 9am.
It’s not the first time fire’s have disrupted the festival. Organisers had to relocate the festival to the Mt Duneed Estate winery in 2015, due to fire risk, just two days before it was due to begin.
In 2016, hundreds of people were caught in a crowd crush at the Falls Festival in Lorne on December 30, as they rushed from one stage area to another about 9.50pm. Twenty-nine people were taken to hospital at the time, while Ambulance Victoria assessed 80 people at the festival.
Upcoming Falls Music Festival events in Byron Bay, Marion Bay in Tasmania, and Fremantle in Western Australia are unaffected.
More to come
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.