Gippsland towns in path of raging fires
A sixth emergency warning has been issued as East Gippsland's fires continue to rage, with residents told it's too late to leave.
A fire 5km from Suggan Buggan is bearing down - residents have been told to take shelter indoors as it is too late to leave.
The town is also in the line of fire as a NSW blaze 13km north moves south towards Victoria.
In Gelantipy, Wulgulmerang, Wulgulmerang East, locals have been told it's too late to leave as a bushfire 5km away bears down on them.
The Princes Highway has been closed between Cann River and the Genoa intersection, with emergency services warning motorists not to travel north from Cann River on the road.
A fresh emergency warning was issued for Ramrod Creek at 1pm, with residents told to flee before the fire impacts the town within the hour.
And an emergency warning was issued for an out-of-control bushfire at Wingan River, 20km east of Cann River.
Residents of Furnell, Tamboon, Tamboon South, and Wingan River have been told it is too late to leave.
"The bushfire has reached the coast east of Point Hicks and likely to travel along the coast in a westerly direction under the influence of a sea breeze," the emergency warning said.
In Cann River yesterday, the blaze was so intense it began generating its own lightning.
A fire near Mallacoota began generating its own weather last night, the dots indicate lightning from a pyrocumulonimbus cloud with plume to 14km. More dangerous fire behaviour is expected across #Victoria today. Stay up to date with forecasts and warnings: https://t.co/DDRfwBegeY pic.twitter.com/lmQrpL40YJ— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) December 29, 2019
"It's an interesting example in relation of fire behaviour because what we then saw was that fire run for about 24km to the coast… and it had a column punching up into the atmosphere, 14 km high - it was generating its own weather," Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp told ABC radio.
And yet another emergency warning has been upgraded for an out-of-control bushfire at Ensay and Tambo Crossing.
It is too late for residents of Reedy Flat, Tambo Crossing, Wattle Circle and Ensay South to leave, with the fire set to cross the Great Alpine Road.
An extra 350 firefighters and 65 trucks were brought in this week in the lead up to today's extreme conditions.
Conditions are described as "incredibly volatile".
Drivers in the area should check the VicEmergency website and listen to emergency broadcasters for updates on road closures in the area.
Authorities are also bracing for a cool change this afternoon, which will see gusty winds and dangerous conditions.
'WAITING GAME' AHEAD FOR RESIDENTS
Cassandra Smith from the Bruthen Bakery has lived in the area for 18 years and said the town was on high alert.
"We're keeping an eye on the winds at the moment, if they pick up it will be bad," she said.
"It is very calm, eerie, very hot. It is very, very, very hot. It's a waiting game."
Ms Smith's husband and two children were at their home with their car packed, should they need to make a getaway.
"If needed, I'll evacuate the bakery because I may need to fight the house," Ms Smith said.
"The dogs will be in the float. I'm fairly calm, until something major happens, it's pointless stressing over it."
Local volunteers told the Herald Sun the firefront was about 5km from the town.
"The wind is picking up already," the CFA volunteer said. "The brief today is protection of life, critical infrastructure, community infrastructure and property."
Mayor of East Gippsland John White said it had gotten "quite hot quite early" this morning.
"We are in the mid 30s already," he told the Herald Sun, around 10am. "It's going to get very hot."
Mr White said hundreds had turned up with livestock at the Bairnsdale stockyards.
"There are a few hundred horses here, some people are even turning up with their chooks," he said.
"Everyone is very orderly and calm about this. We just have to wait."
A farmer himself, Mr White said he had put his own emergency plans in place to protect his farm.
"We've got our plans in place," he said. "This fire has been going for five weeks now, everyone has had a chance to do a tidy up."
On Sunday, Mr White said the forest was "as dry as I've ever seen it''.
"We've dodged this until now because we've had three years of drought,'' he said.
"Hopefully people heed the messages. You can rebuild homes, sheds and fences but life is irreplaceable.''
Tammy Stephenson is working at the Cann River bakery this morning.
Her children left the area last night but she was staying to protect her home, pets and land.
"Some of the locals are saying it's going to be a big one, I don't think anyone knows," she said.
"We think it's going to get pretty yucky this morning. Last night there was a bit of a red glow. There was a lot of traffic heading out last night to Melbourne."
Cann River is understood to have a population of about 200.
"We will keep vigilant and look for embers," Ms Stephenson said. "There is nothing yet, just some smoke. It is scary."
Mr Crisp said conditions would be "unpredictable" across the state today.
"We've got 16 going fires across the state," he said.
"We do have a total fire ban across the whole state and we must be vigilant wherever we are in the state.
"Our state is dry. It's very dry … It's hot, it's dry and it's going to be very windy (today).
"The change doesn't come through until about 2pm in the southwest.
"There will be extremely unpredictable fire behaviour and dangerous fire behaviour."
PLENTY GORGE FIRE UNDER CONTROL
Closer to Melbourne, a grassfire has been brought under control after at Plenty Gorge, in Mill Park.
The blaze was reported about 9.15am, measuring 3ha in size.
There are currently 17 vehicles attending, including an air crane.
Senior forecaster Michael Efron from the Bureau of Meteorology said temperatures were already searing across Victoria.
Melbourne was 37C at lunchtime, with Mildura measuring a sweltering 42.3C.
"We will see those temperatures climbing," Mr Efron said.
"We'll see some dust developing across the Mallee and extending further south across central parts, possibly Melbourne during this afternoon."
Severe weather warnings are in place across the state.
On Sunday, the bureau said that if Melbourne's maximum did pass 40C - as expected - it would be the third above-40C day in December, which last occurred in 1897.
'UNPRECEDENTED' MASS EVACUATIONS
Tens of thousands of holiday-makers and residents were urged to leave East Gippsland as forecast hot, dry conditions on Monday are set to increase the intensity of potentially deadly bushfires.
The unprecedented call for people to leave an entire region comes as three fires burn out of control, threatening homes and farms, and ravaging native forest.
Monday's heatwave - with temperatures across the state peaking in the 40s - could drive flames closer to towns.
The forecast, plus the threat of dry lightning strikes prompted Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp to make the call for anyone east of Bairnsdale to leave.
More than 90,000 people were sent messages urging them to leave.
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said the orders were made in case fires closed the Princes Highway - the only main road in and out - and cut coastal towns off.
The highway was yesterday closed due to fire activity, but has since been reopened between Cann River and Genoa.
Holiday-makers were encouraged to leave, while residents should also leave if they had somewhere safe to go to.
As Victoria faces another day of searing heat:
• A day of total fire ban was declared across the state;
• Melbourne is bracing for a maximum of 43C before an evening change. Ouyen in the northwest is expecting the state's high of a dusty 45C;
• More than 100,000ha of forest has burnt out in East Gippsland as firefighters continue to battle the firefront that has been burning for five weeks;
• Relief centres have opened in Orbost and Delegate;
• An evacuation order is in place for Goongerah, 70km north of Orbost, as a major blaze closes in from the west;
• Emergency authorities sent out 83,000 SMS and 11,000 landline voice messages yesterday, urging people in the region to leave.
On Sunday, hundreds of vehicles, many towing caravans and boats, were heading west.
People camping in national parks and forests were told to evacuate immediately. "You need to get out now,'' Mr Crisp said.
The region has a population of about 46,000 but that figure almost doubles during the summer holidays.
The North-East Victoria and East Gippsland districts were listed as having "severe" fire danger ratings for today, but the rest of the state was rated "extreme" - the highest category before "code red".
Holiday-makers in Lakes Entrance, Metung and other tourist spots such as Paynesville are deciding whether to go home. The southern front of the main blaze is about 20km north of Lakes Entrance.
Richard Darby, who runs the Swifts Creek General Store, said conditions were terrifying, and "silly" people were ignoring advice.
"It's going to be a very bad day (on Monday), they are telling everyone to get out while they can," he said.
"There are 100kmh winds (on Monday), that could be suicide. We are expecting lightning tonight."
Mr Darby said he was staying in the area for now, but hoped to leave before it was too late.
Darren Martin runs the Lakes Entrance Recreation and Camping Ground with his wife and said most people in the popular holiday town were staying put.
"Everyone is staying here, our caravan park is full of people here," he said.
"It's hard for us, looking after 85 families, people came to us asking what we should do.
"We spoke to all the campers about not panicking today. It is very calm and laid back.
"They are not worried about the road being closed as most people stay for another week.
"We are right near the football ground - if there was emergency, we'd be close to the evacuation, it couldn't get much safer.
"No one has a crystal ball. We need everyone to be very vigilant today, don't go out in the boats, everyone will just hang around."