Residents in Victoria have been told a giant 180,000 hectare fire will join with out-of-control fires across the border in NSW to create a ‘mega fire’.
Exhausted firefighters worked tirelessly to contain the bushfires throughout the weekend but a powerful and volatile southerly on Saturday quickly stretched the blazes, with the fires edging closer to each other throughout Sunday.
And while rain has brought a brief period or respite, residents were told at a CFA meeting in Tallangatta on Sunday night it is only a matter of time before the Corryong fire connects with the huge 297,000-hectare Dunns Road fire around the Snowy Mountains, the ABC reported.
The Dunns Road fire, which by midday on Saturday stretched 145,000 hectares, has since doubled in size due to the “unprecedented” conditions and has decimated large areas including the town of Batlow where there are significant home loss.
To the south in Victoria is the Green Valley fire, which is 180,000 hectares, has ripped through the communities of Cudwega, Corryong, Tintaldra and Towong and has connected with the smaller out-of-control East Ournie Creek fire.
It is now less than 10km from creating a giant ‘mega fire’ roughly half a million hectares in size.
Authorities said at least 60 homes in NSW had been destroyed over the weekend, with many feared to be in the areas surrounding the Dunns Road fire. The number is expected to grow considerably.
— Bridget Rollason (@bridgerollo) January 5, 2020
Stubborn residents told to leave
Residents have been told to expect further property losses as the fires join and residents in the worst-affected areas who have yet to leave are being told to act on advice to vacate.
"They're stubborn and they don't want to move," Incident Controller Leith McKenzie told reporters.
"They're defending their life and that's what they know.”
He said when the fires connect it will be “very quick” and fears the level of destruction the fire will cause to Victoria’s northeast and across the border in NSW.
Child playing amid the orange smoke in #Junee today as the #DunnsRoad fire burns 45km away.
(Pics straight from camera, not coloured)#AustralianBushfire #Australia #AustraliaBurns #Fire pic.twitter.com/SIVLvrgVFt
— GregStonham (@GregStonham) January 5, 2020
"We are getting reports that the property losses, the damage and destruction, is likely to be numbering in the hundreds as a result of yesterday's fire activity and fire spread,” NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Sunday.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Monday morning two people were unaccounted for in the state. A further four are unaccounted for in Victoria.
David Harrison’s death took this season's NSW bushfire death toll to 18.
He is the ninth person to die in NSW since the New Year’s Eve fires ripped through the state’s south.
There have been 1365 homes confirmed lost in NSW.
This season’s nationwide bushfire death toll stands at 23.
‘Uncharted territory’ for NSW
Ms Berejiklian labelled the ongoing threat “uncharted territory” with hundreds of homes feared lost across southern NSW.
"We can't pretend this is something we have experienced before - it's not," she told reporters on Sunday.
At 6am, there were 136 fires burning across NSW, with 69 uncontained.
At 6am, there are 136 fires which continue to burn across NSW, 69 uncontained. All fires remain at Advice. Today crews will focus on containment of these large fires, working with heavy plant and aviation assets. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/f2OWkze8nC
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 5, 2020
Rain brings new hazards to Victoria
The cooler, wet weather brought relief to Victoria however created new hazards in the bushfire-ravaged east.
More than one million hectares have burnt across Victoria, mostly in East Gippsland.
Smoke blanketing the region is adding to the difficulty of firefighting and relief efforts.
Rain has started to fall, but not across all fire-affected areas and not enough to douse the fires, and is creating new difficulties.
"It does in fact create some other challenges in a strange way we had a Forest Fire Management vehicle tip over yesterday, thankfully no one was seriously injured," Premier Daniel Andrews told 3AW on Monday.
Mr Andrews said the track the vehicle was travelling had been greasy because rain had not fallen there in such a long time.
"So it's better than it not raining but it's nowhere near enough for us to think this far event's over," he said.
There are 31 fires burning across Victoria as of Monday morning, with 18 in eastern Gippsland and six in the northeast.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.