| 04.01,20. 04:38 PM |
Victoria bushfire: Emergency alerts as blazes intensify
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| ||A view of fire damage on January 03, 2020 in Sarsfield. (Getty)|| Smoke hangs over the Victorian town of Orbost. (Getty)|
Defence aircraft are working to evacuate people from critical parts of Victoria's fire-ravaged east where firefighters are expecting a long campaign.
Critical areas of East Gippsland include Omeo and Swifts Creek where winds have pushed fire fronts towards the towns.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Sharon Coates told AAP aircraft were on the ground at Swifts Creek and Omeo and were hoping to evacuate people to Bairnsdale as soon as conditions allowed.
It comes as another emergency warning was issued for Boggy Creek, bringing the total number of emergency warnings in Victoria to 15.
Erratic winds are fuelling increased fire activity and people across East Gippsland, northeast Victoria and other areas are being told it is too late to leave.
Authorities say there are 21 people missing in the East Gippsland fire zone, revised down from 28 on Friday. The fires have already killed Buchan man Mick Roberts and Maramingo Creek man Fred Becker.
Authorities are trying to get to 18 isolated communities via military helicopter to check on residents' welfare and provide satellite phones and provisions. So far they have only reached two communities.
"As soon as they get notified that the smoke will allow entry, they will be into there through the course of the day," Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said.
Across the fire zone in East Gippsland, there's usually a population of about 100,000 people and police estimate up to 70 per cent of them have fled.
The Princes Highway has been closed towards NSW from Lakes Entrance and the Hume Freeway is also cut because of a fire at Euroa. Phone and power lines are down across the fire-affected areas.
Heavy smoke has prompted an air quality alert for the Central, North Central, Northern Country, North East and Gippsland Regions by the Environment Protection Authority.
People in parts of Gippsland are also being told not to drink tap water amid contamination fears.
The minimum security Beechworth prison has been evacuated due to smoke.
The first 60 evacuees on the navy vessel MV Sycamore from the devastated holiday town of Mallacoota arrived at Hastings port on Saturday morning and will be followed later in the day by HMAS Choules carrying 1100 people.
Both ships plan to re-supply and head back to Mallacoota as there were 4464 registrations for evacuation.
After the sky turned red, then black at Mallacoota on Tuesday, people from the town are reporting the same thing has happened again on Saturday
More than 830,000 hectares has been destroyed across Victoria - mostly in the East Gippsland and northeast of the state.
About 500 people are at a relief centre in Bairnsdale on the western edge of the Gippsland fires. There is also an overflow centre at the local racecourse.
Temperatures are expected to hit 40C at Gippsland and areas of the northeast are due to reach 45C, and a gusty southerly wind change has started.
There are fears dry lightning storms will start more fires.
An unprecedented state of disaster was declared on Thursday, triggering powers introduced after the fatal 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, including allowing authorities to compel people to leave.
Areas covered by the declaration are the East Gippsland Shire, Mansfield Shire, Wellington Shire, Wangaratta Rural Shire, Towong Shire and Alpine Shire. It also covers Mount Buller, Mount Hotham and the Mount Stirling Alpine Resorts.
CFA incident controller Andy Gillam told reporters on Saturday that firefighters were "in for the long haul".
"The fire fight is going to continue, this aggressive fire fight, to save as much property as we can but also to keep our people safe."
"This is a marathon event and we expect to be busy managing these fires for at least the next eight weeks."