Thousands of holiday-makers have evacuated a popular tourist spot in Southeast Australia as a heat wave and strong winds fuel wildfires sweeping through the region.
But with temperatures hitting 104 degrees Monday and blazes closing sections of the main highway, many more tourists and residents of East Gippsland are now unable to leave.
‘‘It’s a very serious, life-threatening situation,’’ Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Kevin Parkyn told the ABC. Authorities warned that conditions in the forested coastal region are the worst since 2009 when the state’s Black Saturday blazes left 180 people dead.
The emergency is the latest development in a wildfire crisis that’s gripped Australia since blazes broke out months ago during the southern hemisphere winter amid a prolonged drought. The fires, which are affecting several states, have triggered an emotive debate about the impact of global warming in the world’s driest-inhabited continent.
At least 10 people have been killed and hundreds of homes destroyed, putting pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government, which champions the coal industry and has dismissed calls to take more steps to curb emissions. The latest casualty was a volunteer firefighter who was battling a blaze in New South Wales, according to the Rural Fire Service in a tweet.
Authorities on Sunday urged some 30,000 tourists to immediately leave East Gippsland, an area about the size of New Jersey, before the weather deteriorated. While many heeded the advice, officials say there wasn’t a mass exodus as holiday-makers chose to remain in popular towns such as Lakes Entrance, renowned for its inland waterways and pristine beaches.
Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations are excpected to be held.