'I don't want to appear harsh': Premier's warning over donations for bushfire victims

People donating clothes and food to Victorian bushfire victims have been told to stop as the kind acts could be more of a hinderance for those battling raging blazes.

Speaking to media on Sunday afternoon, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews pleaded with people to donate money rather than material items.

“I don’t want to appear harsh, but we don’t need any more clothes, we don’t need any more food, we don’t need any more trucks on our roads... we don’t have the warehouse capacity, the people or the time to sort through it,” he told reporters.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says cash donations are needed more than material ones.
Daniel Andrews has pleaded with people to donate money rather than items. Source: AAP

“I know it all comes from a place of kindness and I thank everybody who has made these kinds of donations, but we’re now getting to a point where we don’t have the space, or the people and don’t actually have the need.”

Mr Andrews announced they would convert a Bendigo Bank effort to raise money into a Victorian bushfires fund and 100 per cent of every dollar being donated to that fund would go towards the firefighting effort and victims.

“What we do need and what those families need most and what the agencies have asked me to convey to the Victorian community – cash to the fund I’ve just announced is the best way you can contribute to support those doing it really tough,” he said.

“Money can be given to those families and they can make decisions that are much more flexible... rather than us having to set up warehouses and deal with many, many truckloads of clothes and food and other things.

“We’re very grateful, and I don’t want to appear harsh, but it’s really important those donations stop.”

Pictured is Governor General David Hurley talking to volunteers at a bushfire relief centre in Bairnsdale.
Governor General David Hurley visits a relief centre in Bairnsdale, East Gippsland, on Sunday. Source: AAP

Rain comes but danger ‘far from over’

The bushfire danger confronting Victoria is far from over despite cooler weather as 18 communities remain cut off and significant property losses loom, authorities say.

Cooling conditions and light rain forecast on Sunday was hoped to give crews fighting the deadly blazes in the state's east and northeast some respite.

However, as the number of people unaccounted for rose from six to seven, Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville declared on Sunday the fire danger facing the state remains.

Donated goods are seen at the Lucknow Memorial Hall, Victoria, Friday, January 3, 2020. Daniel Andrews says donations of clothes and food could take up resources needed for firefighting.
Mr Andrews says the donation of clothes and food could take up resources needed for other firefighting efforts. Source: AAP

"Take this as a couple of days of relief. But this is far from over," Ms Neville told reporters.

As of 2pm (local time) on Sunday, one evacuation order remained in the Mt Hotham area in the state's far northeast.

Three emergency warnings were also in force in the Mt Buffalo area in the far northeast and two in far east Gippsland.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said although 18 communities were isolated, it was not known how many people remained in them.

In Mallacoota, 61 people left on Sunday morning via Australian Defence Force helicopters and a ship and another 350 have indicated they want to leave. A further 400 will remain.

Helicopters have been flying in supplies such as fuel and food for those wanting to stay.

So far, about 1000 properties in Victoria's fire-affected areas have been assessed for damage.

Authorities are yet to obtain a clear picture of losses but concede they will be "significant".

A charred tree is seen against a smoky sky in Bruthen, Victoria.
Remains of a burnt-out property that was impacted by a blaze in late December is seen at Bruthen South, Victoria. Source: AAP

Forty-eight fires were listed as ongoing on Sunday evening, with more than 900,000 hectares scorched – including 700,000 hectares across East Gippsland and 200,000 hectares in the northeast.

"The challenges are not over," Mr Crisp said.

"We still have... watch and act messages across all of the eastern part of our state. It is still dynamic. It is still dangerous.

"What we are seeing with our weather, is yes, it is milder, it's more moderate, there has actually been some rain. But in terms of people thinking that this rain is going to put the fires out, that's not the case. There has been such a drought, particularly in the East Gippsland area, we know these fires are with us for a long time."

Conditions to spike again on Thursday

The Bureau of Meteorology said steady rain, cooler conditions and easing winds over the next two days could help fire crews gain more control over the massive blazes.

Ms Neville said she was conscious people were eager to return home but evacuation orders would remain until it was declared safe.

Even if orders are lifted, it is possible people could face the same fate on Thursday or Friday when conditions warm again.

Thursday could see 40-degree temperatures again north of the Great Dividing Range and high 30s to the south.

A state of emergency remains in place for Victoria throughout this week.

The fires have claimed two lives and razed about 110 properties and 220 outbuildings in the state.

Dozens take refuge in tugboats in NSW

A number of people have fled to Merimbula, in southern NSW, as fire forced residents out of Eden.

People were seeking refuge in two tugboats at the end of a wharf, accommodating about 50 to 60 people each, the ABC reported.

Others are opting to sleep on the beach.

Authorities fear hundreds of homes may have been lost in southern NSW with the premier saying the state is in "unchartered territory" despite conditions easing.

"We can't pretend this is something we have experienced before – it's not," Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Sunday.

"The weather activity we're seeing, the extent and spread of the fires, the speed at which they're going, the way in which they're attacking communities who've never ever seen fire before is unprecedented."

There were 150 bushfires burning in NSW on Sunday afternoon with 60 uncontained.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned residents not to become complacent.

"We are seeing an easing of conditions right across the state and there's even a bit of drizzle down on the south coast," the commissioner told reporters.

"It's certainly a welcome reprieve... but, unfortunately, it's not putting out the fires and it's not helping us with furthering back burning and consolidation work."

With AAP

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