Mallacoota: Where Australia’s bushfires turned day to night

Mallacoota: Where Australia’s bushfires turned day to night

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Mallacoota is a tourist town in Victoria, Australia, some 500km (310 miles) east of Melbourne.

Around 1,000 people live there, but the population swells at Christmas, as Australians head to the coast to enjoy their holidays,

But on Tuesday morning – as bushfires swept the region – thousands of people fled to the beach for a different reason: safety.

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People in the town woke up to thick smoke and pale, orange skies. But as the fires drew closer, the sky turned red.

At 8am a warning siren sounded, telling people to head to the water. By 9.30am, the sky was “pitch black”.

“We were bracing for the worst because, it was black,” David Jeffrey told the BBC. “Like it should have been daylight and it was black like midnight. And we could hear the fire roaring.”

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As thousands of people fled to the beach, firefighters moved there with them.

“We’ve got three strike teams sitting in with the community, literally standing side-by-side with our community at the beachfront,” said fire spokesman Steve Warrington.

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Around the same time, some people were fleeing the land on boats.

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People in the area had been urged to evacuate. But by Monday, authorities urged people to stay put because it was too late and dangerous to leave.

By 10.30am, this was the scene at Mallacoota wharf, as people sheltered by the water’s edge.

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Peter Hoskin

Many wore gas masks to protect themselves from the smoke.

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Fleeing into the ocean was the “last resort option”, Victoria’s emergency management agency said on Tuesday.

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With the smoke blocking out the sun, a summer’s day looked like night time at the beachfront.

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Some emergency workers, meanwhile, were preparing to step into the heat.

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By the middle of the day, the sky remained reddish-orange and thick with smoke.

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JONTY SMITH FROM MELBOURNE

Victoria’s state premier Daniel Andrews said navy ships may be called upon to provide food, water and power to the area. The main road in the region has been closed off.

“Some of these isolated communities can be accessed by sea,” he said.

Although no serious injuries have been reported in Mallacoota, houses were seen going up in flames.

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Mr Jeffrey spoke to the BBC when the wind had changed and the sky had cleared slightly.

“We were all terrified for our lives,” he said. “We were praying like crazy.”

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Media captionMallacoota resident David Jeffrey says people were “terrified for their lives”

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