Thousands of holidaymakers and locals were trapped on a beach in fire-ravaged southeast Australia on Tuesday, as blazes ringed a popular tourist area leaving no escape by land. As many as four thousand people are trapped on the foreshore of the encircled seaside town of Mallacoota, as smoke turned day to night and the authorities said nearby fires were causing extreme thunderstorms and ember attacks.
We've got a fire that looks like it's about to impact on Mallacoota, Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp told public broadcaster ABC, adding that firefighters have been deployed to protect the group.
Social media posts by some of the thousands of people still in Mallacoota showed blood-red, smoke-filled skies.
One photograph of the town's beachfront, which is hugely popular during the current summer holiday season, showed people laying shoulder-to-shoulder on the sand, some wearing gas masks.
Authorities had for days been warning up to 30,000 tourists enjoying Australia's summer holidays to leave the area, which is just one of the hundreds ravaged by this devastating bushfire season.
We've got three strike teams in Mallacoota that will be looking after 4,000 people down on the beach there, Crisp said. We're naturally very concerned about communities that have become isolated.
Preparations were reportedly under way for a sea or airborne evacuation if needed. On social media, residents said they were putting on life jackets in case they need to seek refuge from the fire in the water.
Temperatures in bushfire areas can hit hundreds of degrees Celsius killing anyone nearby, long before the flames reach them.
The ocean is a last resort option according to Victoria's emergency management agency.
Australia's unprecedented bushfires have been burning for months, but a new heat wave and high winds have wrought new devastation. The crisis has hit cities like Sydney and Melbourne, home to several million people.
On Monday, around 100,000 people were urged to flee five Melbourne suburbs as the spiraling bushfire crisis killed a volunteer firefighter battling a separate blaze in the countryside.
The mercury has reached 47 degrees Celsius in Western Australia and topped 40 degrees Celsius in every region - including the usually temperate island of Tasmania.