SYDNEY - Australia’s long bushfire crisis is continuing with large parts of the state of Victoria now threatened. Emergency authorities have taken the highly unusual step of telling tens of thousands of people in the East Gippsland region (350 kilometers east of Melbourne) to leave.
There are fears that extremely hot and windy conditions could merge three major bushfires in East Gippsland to form a devastating mega blaze. The authorities say the situation is potentially ‘life threatening’ for residents and tourists.
“Whilst we will do everything we can, we’re now asking you now to leave East Gippsland, from that area along the coast into the parks, into the forest. You should not be there and we want you to get out now,” says Andrew Crisp, the Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner.
East Gippsland has some of Australia’s most stunning forests and coastline. At the height of the summer tourism season, about 30,000 holiday visitors have been told to leave.
“Both of our caravan parks have been emptied out," says Sandra Huggins who owns a general store in the small town of Nowa Nowa. "[I’ve] got a list of about 50, or maybe not quite that many locals who are planning to leave or have already left. I’ve got a small list of people planning to stay.”
Fires have also threatened homes near the city of Melbourne.
Dangerous fire conditions and extreme heat are forecast Monday across four states in southeastern Australia. The intensity and scale of the fire crisis have unnerved many Australians.
Thousands have signed a petition calling on Sydney to scrap its dazzling New Year’s Eve fireworks display. They insist the event would be an "insult" and could "traumatize" some of those affected by the bushfires.
The city’s lord mayor Clover Moore said the fireworks were planned months in advance and that most of the budget had already been spent.
Nine people have died since the fires began, hundreds of houses have been lost and about one million hectares of land left scorched.