‘Horror Night’ For Bushfire Ravaged Communities As Blazes Flare Up Again
Fire crews in NSW and Victoria are experiencing another horror night after already ravaged communities were told to leave as dangerous blazes flare up again across the southeast.
In NSW, communities in southern parts of the state have been warned to brace for another long night of danger as hot, dry and windy conditions cause erratic bushfire behaviour and ramp up the risk of more property loss.
Parts of Victoria are also facing severe to extreme fire danger into the night, with authorities warning it is "highly likely" blazes will merge.
Meanwhile, in South Australia, a number of emergency warnings have been downgraded after the already devastated Kangaroo Island saw more properties lost, firefighters injured and land blackened this week.
In WA, firefighters fear a large blaze south of Perth that had been brought under control, could break containment lines ahead of a return to unfavourable conditions.
The warnings come as Insurance Council of Australia said they had already received close to 11,000 claims from across the country since November.
Financial losses from the fires are estimated to have reached a staggering $939 million.
Three bushfires burning in southern NSW have merged to create a massive blaze in the Snowy Mountains area as a strong wind change brought 90km/h gusts to dozens of dangerous fire grounds.
The 233,000-hectare Green Valley fire on Friday evening merged with the nearby East Ournie Creek blaze and the huge 312,000 hectare-Dunns Road fire which were already at emergency level.
The Green Valley blaze jumped Jingellic Road at Lankeys Creek as it moved toward the Alpine communities of Mundaroo, Tumbarumba and Mannus.
NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Anthony Bradstreet said the fires were burning very quickly and could impact rural properties in the area as winds reach 90km/h.
"We are seeing embers burning ahead of the fire front and we could see properties threatened before that main fire front arrives," he told AAP on Friday.
Another six blazes - including the massive Border fire - were at watch-and-act level on Friday evening, with most in the state's scorched southeast.
The RFS said the Erskine Creek blaze which is an extension of the Green Wattle Creek fire near the Blue Mountains was put at watch-and-act level because of fears strong winds could move it towards Leura and Wentworth falls.
The southwesterly wind change brought gusts of up to 90km/h across the Riverina, with the Bureau of Meteorology warning the change will be "particularly gusty" and "very significant" across the state.
It will blow up the coast throughout the evening and was expected to reach Morouya about 11pm and Sydney by 2am on Saturday.
A firefighter in his 20s has been hospitalised and is in a stable condition after he suffered burns to his face in the Snowy Valley region when fierce winds pushed the fires in different directions.
At Thredbo, snowmaking machines have been running non-stop for days to wet village grounds to combat any potential spot fires from the Pilot Lookout fire south of the ski resort.
Meanwhile, NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said two new blazes - the Yearinan Station Rd fire near Coonabarabran in the state's north and another in a remote region of the Blue Mountains appeared to have begun due to lightning strikes.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian earlier urged communities to remain vigilant amid warm and windy conditions.
"In essence, we know it's going to be a long and difficult night," Ms Berejiklian said.
About 65 of the 137 bushfires burning around NSW are uncontained.
The fires have closed several roads across the state including the Snowy Mountains Highway between the Hume Highway at Mount Adrah and Adelong and between Talbingo and Kosciuszko Road.
The Princes Highway remains closed between Wonboyn Road at Narrabarba and the Victorian border, along with other roads across the NSW-Victorian border.
Communities on the Victoria-NSW border were also warned they may be unable to contact triple zero due to telecoms outages.
Conditions are due to ease later on Saturday with showers and isolated thunderstorms in coastal parts and adjacent ranges expected, Bureau of Meteorology spokesman Grahame Reader said.
Victoria's northeast is littered with ghost towns in what is usually a peak tourist season as winds bring the state's raging bushfires close to communities previously untouched by the inferno.
Towns like Bright along the Great Alpine Road were eerily quiet as the wind picked up dramatically on Friday afternoon, with smoke from a fire near Abbeyard spilling over parts of the ranges of the Mount Buffalo National Park.
Earlier evacuation messages for people in other alpine towns including Mount Buffalo have now been replaced with emergency warnings as it is too late to safely leave.
A cool change hit the region and East Gippsland on Friday, bringing with it strong southwesterly winds of 70km/h to 100km/h as well as about 10mm of rain.
While the change will move through by morning, residents have been warned to stay alert and to heed warnings.
"If you are told to leave a community, and you can leave, then you should leave. It's the least we can all do to support those that are putting their lives on the line to keep the rest of us safe," premier Daniel Andrews said.
Owner of the Eagle Range Estate winery in Ovens, Frank Ivone, closed his business, in part because there have been no tourists flowing through from nearby Bright, but is staying put.
"Some call it a ghost town," he told AAP.
The fifth-generation local is sticking around on Friday night to defend his winery and home if needed, hoping his dams, water pumps and firefighting hoses will hold him in good stead.
He said those who have stayed behind have predominantly dealt with similar conditions before.
"People are not blase about it, but they're well aware of how fires travel around here," he said.
Ten emergency alerts, the highest-possible level, are currently in place while one evacuation message remains for Bennies, Cheshunt South, Markous, Rose River, Top Crossing, Upper Rose River and Wabonga Platea.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said the three areas of most concern are Mount Buffalo, Cann River and Bruthen and Buchan.
"Today is not over. We know that it is the lead-up to the change, the change and post-change, is where the real risk is for us," he said.
"What has worked in our favour - we haven't had a lot of new starts today."
Crisp said a huge smoke column had sprouted from the Cann River fire and he is worried about spotting going into the Buckland Valley in Bright and the Wandiligong Valley.
It is also highly likely fires on the NSW border will join with fires in that state.
There are 21 fires burning across the state and more than 1.3 million hectares have been burnt since November 21.
Victoria's state of disaster declaration has been extended into the weekend and a total fire ban is in place for the Mallee, Northern Country, North Central, North East, East Gippsland, West and South Gippsland.
KANGAROO ISLAND, SA
Properties have been lost, firefighters injured and more land blackened after a night of horrific conditions across the Kangaroo Island bushfires, but the emergency has begun to ease.
Assessments are underway, but some homes are believed lost at Vivonne Bay while the town of Parndana was spared for a second time, despite fire bearing down on it from several directions.
Both towns had been evacuated amid emergency warnings and the escalating danger.
Two Country Fire Service trucks were involved in burn-overs and two more CFS personnel were injured, taking the total hurt on Kangaroo Island to 22.
With rain falling across the fire ground on Friday, the warning levels for all fires were reduced first to a watch and act and then to an advice level.
CFS chief officer Mark Jones said Thursday night was an "incredibly difficult" period for all 280 firefighters on the island.
"Winds were not consistent, they were blustery and came from many different directions," he said.
Fires were spotting during the night which allowed them to jump containment lines and in that situation Jones said the number of firefighters on the ground almost became irrelevant.
"No containment lines or control lines can stop spotting or ember attacks on properties," he said.
"There's no way to stop those fires from spreading."
At the height of the emergency there were fears Kingscote, the island's largest town, might be cut off.
On Friday morning the town of Emu Bay, on the north coast, also came under threat, with residents moved to the nearby beach but the CFS said that situation had also eased.
Jones cautioned that the fires would not be completely extinguished in the short term.
So far more than 170,000 hectares of scrub has been burnt, including most of the famed Flinders Chase National Park, along with dozens of homes and hundreds of other buildings.
In response to the situation, the ferry service from the SA mainland was asked to restrict travel to freight, local residents and emergency service personnel but that decision was expected to be reviewed.
The escalation in fire activity cut power to more properties with about 850 now without electricity.
SA Power Networks said its crews had been relocated to Penneshaw for safety reasons and would wait for CFS clearance before re-entering the fire zone.
Smoke from the fires also affected a large swathe of South Australia, with air quality in a number of areas listed as very poor on Friday morning, before improving.
The Kangaroo Island blaze first broke out on December 20 from a lightning strike but escalated rapidly last Friday before jumping containment lines again on Thursday.
SOUTH OF PERTH, WAA fire has jumped one of Perth's major freeways and is threatening lives and homes less than 30km south of the CBD.
An emergency warning has been issued for parts of Atwell and Success on both sides of Kwinana Freeway in the City of Cockburn with the bushfire moving fast in a westerly direction.
Residents should head south immediately if safe to do so, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services says.
However, some roads are closed including the freeway southbound of Armadale Road.
Firefighters are on the scene, DFES says, with aerial support on its way.
It is the second fire ignited on the main route to Perth's southern suburbs with firefighters tackling a blaze in Baldivis, about 40km south of the city.
Crews worked through the night to protect homes before an emergency warning was downgraded to a 'watch and act' message early Friday.
Firefighters fear unfavourable conditions will cause the blaze, which was reported at midday on Thursday, will break containment lines.
It has since burnt through more than 1200 hectares, but it is now stationary and controlled.
An evacuation centre has opened at Mike Barnett Sports Complex in Rockingham.
Meanwhile, the Eyre Highway, the only sealed road linking South Australia and Western Australia, has been reopened after it was closed for nearly two weeks due to bushfires.
Hundreds of travellers were left stranded when the highway was shut because of a large fire burning near Norseman.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services confirmed the 1660-kilometre road had reopened in a statement released Friday morning.