Military deployed as thousands shelter on beaches as Australia’s fires rage

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

The Australian military have been called in to help evacuate people sheltering on beaches and bring supplies to those cut off by fire as the worst wildfires on record continue to rage.

In an escalation of the response to the fires, the Australian Defence Force will work alongside firefighters as they continue to tackle out of control across southern Australia.

In the state of Victoria 4,000 people were forced to take shelter on the beach in the coastal town of Mallacoota, as winds pushed an emergency-level wildfire towards their homes.

They were advised to go into the water if the fire situation worsened. Similar advice was given to people in several New South Wales (NSW) coastal towns, where fearful residents and holidaymakers had also abandoned their dwellings to move onto beaches.

Firefighters are seen as they try to protect homes around Charmhaven, New South Wales. Credit: Twitter@NSWRFS via AP

In response, a fleet of ships, planes and helicopters have been deployed to the affected region to bring food, water and medical help to those stranded by the blaze.

HMAS Choules, one of Australia’s three amphibious ships, will depart Sydney at short notice and is expected to be available to support relief efforts on the NSW South Coast and the northeast of Victoria from Friday.

Seven helicopters and other aircraft are being deployed to drop supplies to towns in Victoria and NSW cut off by fire.

People evacuate to a lake to escape wildfires in Ulladulla, New South Wales. Credit: AP

People in Mallacoota posted on social media about hearing the roar of the fire, circulating photos showing how, in the words of some, the smoke had turned “the day into night”.

“Mallacoota is currently under attack,” Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Tuesday.

“It is pitch-black, it is quite scary… the community right now is under threat but we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected.”

Two more people died and five others missing were feared dead, as the fires ravaged the country.

Police said a father and son died in the early hours of Tuesday, defending their home in Cobargo, near the coast in NSW, 280 miles south of Sydney.

The town was hit by one out-of-control fire which roared into the community in the middle of the night, with its main street bearing the impact.

A burnt-out residence in Sarsfield, East Gippsland, Victoria. Credit: AP
Wildfires continue to rage across Australia's two most-populous states. Credit: AP

Emergency services officials said it was possible towns in the Gippsland area could be evacuated by sea as the fires, fanned by strong winds, continued.

Another person was unaccounted for in the NSW town of Belowra.

As defence force personnel assisted firefighters and volunteers in tackling some of the worst blazes, eight fires were burning at emergency level across NSW, with a similar number ongoing in Victoria, and two more in the island state of Tasmania.

Fires have worsened in Victoria and NSW after oppressive heat on Monday, mixed with strong winds and lightning strikes.

Firefighters stationed in Wyoming, NSW, filmed the dramatic moment their truck was overcome by the blaze.

The crew from the fire and rescue station in Wyoming were forced to shelter in their truck as the fire front passed through, with the crew holding up blankets against the windows as tall flames and sparks hit the side of the vehicle.

The death toll from more than three months of wildfires in multiple states now stands at 12.

Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, with more than 1,000 dwellings razed.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday said requests had been made for 70 firefighters from the United States and Canada to be flown in to help local firefighters.

Major roads were closed near the south coast of NSW including the country’s main national carriageway, the Pacific Highway.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison posted a video address expressing sympathy over the death on Monday of volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28, who died when what was described as “a fire tornado” flipped his truck off the ground while he attended a blaze near Albury, in southern NSW.

A fire is extinguished behind a house in Mollymook, New South Wales. Credit: AP

“As 2019 draws to a close, the devastating impact of these terrible bushfires continues,” Mr Morrison said.

High fire danger and extreme temperatures – western Sydney hit 45 degrees on Tuesday – have caused the cancellation of several planned New Year’s fireworks displays, including in the national capital Canberra.

Sydney’s iconic harbour-side fireworks were to go ahead, but with signs displayed of how people could donate money to help those affected by fires.