Two people caught in bushfires in Australia’s southeast have been found dead, authorities said on Tuesday, as huge fire fronts cause widespread devastation and forced thousands of holidaymakers to flee to beaches to escape the flames.
Gladys Berejiklian, the New South Wales premier, confirmed that two people have died in Cobargo, while one person is missing feared dead.
“It’s been confirmed today that there are two deceased persons in Cobargo,” she said. “The police have confirmed that. A third person is missing with grave concerns for their safety, west of Narooma. Our message is please follow instructions.”
It comes as thousands of tourists and locals were trapped on a beach in fire-ravaged southeast Australia, as blazes surrounded a popular holiday area, leaving no escape by land.
As many as 4,000 people are trapped on the shore of the encircled seaside town of Mallacoota, as smoke turned day to night and the authorities said nearby fires were causing extreme thunderstorms and “ember attacks”.
“We’ve got a fire that looks like it’s about to impact on Mallacoota,” Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp told public broadcaster ABC, adding that firefighters have been deployed to protect the group.
Authorities had for days been warning up to 30,000 tourists enjoying Australia’s summer holidays to leave the area, which is just one of the hundreds ravaged by this devastating bushfire season.
“We’ve got three strike teams in Mallacoota that will be looking after 4,000 people down on the beach there,” Crisp said. “We’re naturally very concerned about communities that have become isolated.”
Preparations were reportedly under way for a sea or airborne evacuation if needed.
On social media, residents said they were putting on life jackets in case they need to seek refuge from the fire in the water.
Local radio journalist Francesca Winterson said she was watching the fire approach the town and her own home while she tried to broadcast emergency warnings amid a powercut.
“I’d rather be alive than have a house,” she told ABC Gippsland.
To the north, on the New South Wales coast, holidaymakers were also warned that several “dangerous” blazes were moving quickly and they should seek shelter on beaches if necessary.
Shane Fitzsimmons, the Rural Fire Service Commissioner for New South Wales said there were preliminary reports of potential fatalities in small towns in the state.
Police found the two men deceased in a house in the west of Cobargo. They were residents of the town, and were father and son. Police are still trying to access a house west of Narooma, where a man is missing.
“Unfortunately we think the news in that house will not be good either,” Gary Worboys, police deputy commissioner for New South Wales, said. It is believed that an elderly man lives in the house.
Mr Fitzsimmons said it was unsafe for police to get to the locations due to the ongoing threat from fires.
A further four people are unaccounted for in the state of Victoria, the site of some of the fiercest recent fires, although authorities have not provided further information.
There have been nine confirmed casualties this bushfire season, which includes the death of a volunteer firefighter on Monday who was killed after his truck was blown over by strong winds.
Australia has been battling huge bushfires, mostly across its east coast, for several weeks. The blazes have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres).
The crisis has hit cities like Sydney and Melbourne, home to several million people.
On Monday, around 100,000 people were urged to flee five Melbourne suburbs as the spiralling bushfire crisis killed a volunteer firefighter battling a separate blaze in the countryside.