Smoke from the Australian bushfires has turned the skies red as thousands of people were left trapped after fleeing to beaches for safety.
About 4,000 people in Victoria were forced to take shelter on the beach in the holiday town of Mallacoota on Monday as the fires continued to rage out of control.
Another 4,000 displaced people were said to be sheltering in community centres in the town.
Bushfire situation ‘terrifying’, say residents
Helicopters are reportedly being brought in to evacuate people from coastal areas – with many already taking to boats to escape the inferno.
A father and son died on Tuesday defending their home in Cobargo, New South Wales (NSW), and five others are currently missing.
Locals have described the situation as “terrifying”.
— Billy Tusker Haworth (@BillyTusker) December 31, 2019
Authorities in Victoria told those on the beach to retreat to the water if the fire situation worsened.
Similar advice was given to people in several NSW coastal towns, where fearful residents and holidaymakers had also abandoned their dwellings to move onto beaches.
In Mallacoota, four people were missing in the area, where more than half a million acres of forest have been burnt out and where the intense heat and smoke from fires has been creating localised storm systems.
“Mallacoota is currently under attack,” Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
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“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.”
"It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring," David Jeffrey, a business owner, said. "We were all terrified for our lives."
"There's a rock wall that they've built to keep back the sea, and that was where we were going to jump into the water if the radiant heat had hit," he added.
EMERGENCY WARNING: Arizona Rd, Charmhaven (Central Coast).
Crews continue to protect homes around Charmhaven and slow the spread of fire. This photo taken a short time ago from firefighters on the ground. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/dkIj25S8yf
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 31, 2019
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.
The death toll from more than three months of wildfires in multiple states now stands at 12.
At Batemans Bay, NSW the thick smoke and heat of the #bushfires has forced people to evacuate to the beach.#NSWfires #bushfiresNSW #BatemansBay #nswbushfire #AustralianFires pic.twitter.com/AbLllwlchV
— I Sea (@RiffRaffBriz) December 31, 2019
Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, with more than 1,000 dwellings razed.
The premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, on Tuesday said requests had been made for 70 firefighters from the US and Canada to be flown in to help local crews.
Thousands displaced from homes amid Australia bushfires
Prime minister Scott Morrison posted a video address expressing sympathy over the death on Monday of volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28.
He died when what was described as “a fire tornado” flipped his truck off the ground while he attended a blaze near Albury, southern NSW.
“As 2019 draws to a close, the devastating impact of these terrible bushfires continues,” Mr Morrison said.