'Too late to leave': Stranded tourists 'hope for the best' as Victorian fires rage
It is too late for people in parts of Victoria's East Gippsland to leave, with the highest alerts remaining for nearby out-of-control blazes.
Two bushfires near Ensay and Tambo Crossing have joined at the southern end and remain very active with extreme fire behaviour, authorities have warned.
Eleven emergency warnings and one evacuate now alert were active in the state as of 5:30pm Monday. For up-to-date information, visit the Vic Emergency website.
“You need to stay across the conditions where you are. You need to follow, very, very closely, the instructions in those warnings,” Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said about 3:40pm Monday.
“With those emergency warnings, a lot will say ‘Shelter in place’ but, at times, they will give you options of how you might be able to get out of that particular area. You need to read carefully all those messages.”
“There is a bushfire approximately 14 kms west of Goongerah that is not yet under control,” Victoria’s County Fire Authority said earlier in the day.
“Fire activity will increase due to the extreme fire weather conditions today and into the early hours of Tuesday.”
At 1pm on Monday, a number of alerts were upgraded and emergency warnings were put in place for Goongerah, Martins Creek, Sardine Creek, Errinundra and Nurran, where it is too late to leave.
Those in the area are being told the safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately.
Bushfire – Evacuate Now update for 28 Km West Of Goongerah. For more info: https://t.co/8nSHAnGWQG #vicfires pic.twitter.com/QV2Rbrkcdz
— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) December 30, 2019
As many as 30,000 tourists warned to leave
As holidaymakers brave the conditions, Cmr Crisp took the unusual step yesterday of telling tourists to get out of the vast north-eastern region.
"If you're holidaying in that part of the state, it's time that you left," Mr Crisp said early afternoon on Sunday.
He estimated 30,000 visitors were in Lakes Entrance alone, in the south of the state, while many more were holidaying along the coast up to the NSW border and in the region's isolated national parks.
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, the Country Fire Authority was unable to verify that number or speculate about how many tourists may have heeded the suggestion to leave.
But it is thought a large number are now forced to stay put and take shelter.
Friends just evacuated Mallacoota as the township is anticipating ember attacks tonight. Can’t head back home to Bairnsdale due to fires/road closures so they are heading north to Eden and hoping for the best.
— Zoe Curtis (@Zoe_Curtis_) December 30, 2019
Mr Crisp said it was a "high-risk day" in Victoria and those still in left Lakes Entrance may now be stuck there.
"It is a day we don't often see," Mr Crisp told ABC TV early on Monday.
"If you're not out by 9am there is every chance you won't be able to leave."
Those in the area reported receiving text messages on Sunday urging them to leave, but it’s unknown how many decided to stay.
Lakes Entrance Recreation and Camping Reserve caretaker Darren Martin said the message to leave had not quite stuck with holidaymakers.
"All of the people in our caravan park have been coming back and forth for years and seem to think they would bunker down and just hope for the best," he told 3AW.
Currently holidaying in Lakes Entrance and getting mix messages on whether to evacuate or not. Got this text but staff at our motel are saying it will be fine. Very confusing! #eastgippsland #bushfires pic.twitter.com/2kAtH7iLwB
— Brooke Grebert-Craig (@brooke_gc) December 29, 2019
Soaring temperatures and extreme weather to hit
The Princes Highway is closed between Cann River and Genoa due to the fire threat.
The Great Alpine Road between Bruthen and Ensay could be shut for up to a fortnight.
The Princes Highway was temporarily closed overnight after a new fire developed a 14km plume and created its own lightning, the Bureau of Meteorology's Michael Efron said.
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said on Monday morning 16 fires started in Victoria overnight because of dry lightning.
Temperatures are set to soar into the 40s across Victoria on Monday, with a total fire ban in place across the state and extreme fire danger ratings in most regions.
The weather bureau expects strong and gusty winds throughout Monday, as well as thunderstorms that will give way to much cooler air and rain across Victoria.
The temperature has already reached 36C in Bairnsdale, ahead of a top of 43C.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issued for storm cells moving into the #Melbourne area. Damaging winds up to 90km/h are possible with these storms. Details: https://t.co/pfSMWdEmUh #MelbourneWeather pic.twitter.com/5gUuBHU2jw
— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) December 30, 2019
A cool change is due to hit West Gippsland on Monday night before moving into East Gippsland early on Tuesday morning. Mr Efron said the change could create hazardous conditions.
Dust storms could hit the Mallee, while the temperature is expected to drop 15C in an hour in Melbourne later on Monday night after a cool and windy change.
Ambulance Victoria said two children and a woman in her 70s were taken to hospitals after being locked in cars on Sunday.
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