As warm, gusty winds fanned “very challenging” bushfires in Victoria, eastern Australia, firefighters issued a warning to residents on Tuesday to depart or seek shelter if it is too late to do so.
According to Jason Heffernan, chief officer of the state’s Country Fire Authority, there were about 650 firefighters combating flames that covered 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres).
Around East Gippsland, which is located around 250 kilometers (155 miles) east of Melbourne, wind gusts of up to 80 kilometres per hour (50 miles per hour) have been reported, he said.
Nine rural neighborhoods received evacuation orders from emergency services after it was determined that the fires “threatened homes and lives.”
People who had not yet left from another seven neighbourhoods were told to take shelter immediately because “it is too late to leave the area safely”.
“We are experiencing spot fires well ahead of the main fire front and firefighters are doing their best to try and contain that fire but it is very challenging,” Heffernan told Australian public broadcaster ABC.
“It is proving to be quite difficult, burning in both private property but also in some pine plantations. So the next couple of hours will remain very challenging for firefighters on the ground.”
Late in the afternoon, rain was predicted to assist douse the flames.
Separately, Tasmania’s emergency services reported that a blaze was “out of control” in a section of Flinders Island, despite the fact that recent rain had slowed its growth.
The upcoming Australian summer is predicted by experts to offer the most violent bushfire season since 2019-2020 after many wet years.
During that “Black Summer”, bushfires raged across Australia’s eastern seaboard, razing swathes of forest, killing millions of animals and blanketing cities in smoke.