A young boy who appeared in a striking bushfire image that shocked the world on Tuesday has described the moment he and his family fled the ferocious blaze that burnt down parts of his Victorian community.
Eleven-year-old Finn Burns was photographed by his mother as he steered their power boat away from the small town of Mallacoota on Tuesday with visibility severely reduced thanks to a thick, red haze.
With a look of fear across his face that’s partially covered by a mask to protect him from the smoke, the image of Finn with an apocalyptic backdrop has encapsulated the horror thousands of residents faced as they rushed to the water in search of safety from the life-threatening blaze.
“We were just worried about getting away from the fire and just being safe,” Finn told Nine News.
He managed to steer himself, his mother and brother and their family dog to a nearby sand barrier off the coast with dozens of other terrified locals.
As soon as they got into the boat he said it went “pitch black”.
When asked how he felt about his poignant image spreading across the world, he simply responded: “I’m not really that fussed.”
“It’s just a photo,” he added.
His mother earlier described Finn as a “legend”, telling the ABC both her sons remained extremely calm amid the panic from thousands around them.
About 4000 people rushed to the water’s edge at Mallacoota, close to the NSW border.
As conditions eased and they were able to return to the town, some were met with the devastating reality their homes had been destroyed.
While Finn’s family home remained in tact, it is believed up to 50 homes may have been lost.
A boil water notice was put in place for Mallacoota, an isolated coastal holiday town near the NSW border, from Tuesday to reduce public health risks.
Military response for fire-ravaged town
A NSW police boat brought in water to Mallacoota on Tuesday and a Victoria water police boat is taking 1.6 tonnes of water on Wednesday.
A barge from Melbourne with two weeks' supply of food, water and fuel is also making its way to the town.
After a request from the premier on Tuesday, military personnel have begun helping with the relief effort, including undertaking rapid damage assessments.
Aircrafts, including Black Hawk helicopters, are expected to land in the east of the state on Wednesday, with other aircrafts and naval vessels due in the coming days to help move people out of the area.
Naval vessels, including HMAS Choules, left Sydney bound for the East Gippsland coast on Tuesday evening and training vessel MV Sycamore has also been deployed.
As the fires ripped through East Gippsland, one man lost his life in his home in Buchan, 200km west of Mallacoota.
Since Monday, seven people have also died in the NSW bushfires.
Fire danger remains in Victoria
Earlier on Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews said four people were still missing, but would not say what communities in East Gippsland they belonged to.
"Everything is being done to try and establish the whereabouts of these people," he told reporters at the Bairnsdale incident control centre on Wednesday.
After spending more than a day on emergency alert, the threat in East Gippsland and at Corryong in northeast Victoria have been downgraded to watch and acts.
But a bushfire is now burning out-of-control at Canterbury Avenue in Sunbury, northwest of Melbourne.
An emergency warning - the highest alert level - was issued at 4.20pm, before being downgraded to a watch and act about 20 minutes later.
The risk of flare-ups elsewhere remains. Conditions are expected to worsen on Saturday and dry lightning has continued to spark new fires.
More than 500,000 hectares have been burnt as three fires in East Gippsland combined on Tuesday.
The blaze at Corryong has burnt 109,000 hectares and is also at risk of spreading and merging.
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