Lives and homes are at risk across Victoria as firefighters contend with out-of-control bushfires in the state’s west and east on a horror day fuelled by an extreme heatwave.
An emergency warning issued on Monday afternoon for residents in Melbourne’s north has been downgraded after it earlier threatened Bundoora, Greensborough and Mill Park.
— Emilia Terzon (@EmiliaTerzon) December 30, 2019
Meanwhile flames as high as 20m confronted fire crews battling catastrophic dangers in Victoria’s west, with 14km high smoke columns creating fire-generated thunderstorms.
The worst is yet to come with a dangerous wind change not expected until around midnight on Monday amid warnings that the conditions in parts of the state are “comparable almost to Black Saturday”.
Thousands have already fled their homes after warnings scorching temperatures would fan searing bushfires across southern parts of the country.
For those who stayed behind, authorities fear it is now too late to leave parts of Victoria as firefighters brace for blistering winds to batter the parched countryside.
Victoria is bracing for the potentially ferocious wind change to bring gusts up to 120 km/h, the weather bureau has warned.
The dangerous wind shift is expected to create damaging conditions and remain a risk across eastern parts of Victoria into Tuesday morning.
Victoria bushfire alerts
Ten emergency alerts issued for out-of-control blazes in Victoria’s far east and northeast.
The latest upgrade warning has been issued for Wingan River. The bushfire is travelling towards Mallacoota.
Residents have been told it’s too late to leave. The Genoa-Mallacoota Road is closed.
An emergency warning, the highest possible alert, was issued for a blaze west of Goongerah on Monday afternoon and an evacuation order remains in place.
Another emergency warning also was issued on Monday afternoon for a fire burning 13km from Walwa in the northeast, near the NSW border.
The bushfire is travelling from NSW River Road towards Walwa.
Emergency warnings have also been issued in East Gippsland for the W Tree fire, Ramrod Creek, Bullumwaal, Clifton Creek, Deptford, Mount Taylor, Waterholes and Fairhope.
The highest alert has also been issued for Suggan Buggan, Buchan, Buchan South and Sunny Point.
Suggan Buggan is a border town, also threatened by out-of-control blazes in NSW.
EMERGENCY WARNING – BUSHFIRE has been issued for Ramrod Creek and contains up to date advice.
The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave.
— VicEmergency (@vicemergency) December 30, 2019
Similar alerts were already in place on Monday for the Ensay-Barmouth Spur fire, and the Wingan River fire.
The Ensay-Barmouth Spur fire had been two fires but joined overnight and has burnt about 100,000 hectares.
“It is quite an extreme day for us, really the first really bad day that we’ve had on this group of fires since they started on November 21,” East Gippsland fires incident controller Ben Rankin told reporters at Bairnsdale.
“(It’s) comparable almost to Black Saturday in some ways, if the forecast does eventuate as given to us.”
A total fire ban is in place across the state, and multiple emergency warnings in place have been issued in the East Gippsland region.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said it was a “high-risk day” in Victoria and those still in left Lakes Entrance may now be stuck there.
“We’ve just – we recently looked at the columns, and they’re generating their own weather,” Mr Crisp said.
“There’s lightning coming out of these columns. It is unpredictable, it’s dangerous out there, and people need to stay tuned to their local conditions and stay across that good information so they can make good decisions.
In South Australia, fires continue to burn on Kangaroo Island and a catastrophic danger has been declared for the Adelaide Metropolitan, Yorke Peninsula, Mount Lofty Ranges and the state’s Mid North.
Adelaide is forecast to reach 40C and firefighters are particularly worried about the potential for breakouts in the blaze burning in the Adelaide Hills.
Severe thunderstorm warnings have also been issued for parts of the South Australian coast, adding to the risk of bushfires from lightning strikes.
In NSW, a fire-generated thunderstorm (pyro-cumulonimbus) has formed over the Badja Forest Road and Tuross Falls Road fires, northwest of Cobargo.
A pyro-cumulonimbus can create erratic winds and dry lightning and result in significantly faster fire spread.
A fire-generated thunderstorm has formed over the Badja Forest Road and Tuross Falls Road fires, north-west of Cobargo. This is a very dangerous situation. Monitor the conditions around you and take appropriate action. #nswfires #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/bJAGGP1LMg
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 30, 2019
Across NSW, more than 900 homes have been destroyed but that number is expected to increase with rising temperatures and dry winds forecast to peak on New Year’s Eve.
However the NSW RFS has approved Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations.
Temperatures are forecast to climb past 40C in western Sydney and parts of regional NSW by Tuesday, as air pollution in the city’s southwest remains at a hazardous level.
Hobart sweltered through what appears to be the city’s hottest December day on record, as two raging bushfires threaten homes elsewhere in the state.
The Tasmanian capital hit 40.8C early on Monday afternoon, while several other locations in the southeast also passed 40C.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the figures were still subject to verification.
Hobart’s previous hottest December day was recorded in 1897 when the temperature reached 40.6C, coincidentally also on the 30th.
About 20 properties were on Monday evening at risk from a blaze at Pelham in the Derwent Valley west of Hobart, which sparked two emergency warnings.
Crews had to be pulled back from the blaze due to the size of flames, Peter Middleton from the Tasmania Fire Service told ABC Radio.
Mr Middleton said Monday’s scorching temperatures and forecast high winds into the night were a “recipe for disaster”.
“It makes it very challenging for our crews. Temperatures will cool but we’re expecting the winds to pick up, which will prove challenging,” he said.
Another blaze in Tasmania’s northeast prompted emergency warnings for the town of Fingal, plus Mangana and Tower Hill, with residents told to head to a safer location.
A cool change is forecast on Tuesday, when the TFS hopes to conduct aerial patrols to look for fires sparked by dry lightning strikes from passing thunderstorms.