Updated Jan 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Australia fires: Race to evacuate thousands before conditions worsen

Cars line up to leave the town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales to head north on January 2, 2020
Cars line up to leave the town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Australian authorities are racing to evacuate thousands of people stranded in the states of New South Wales and Victoria before high temperatures and strong winds return — with the military helping people escape the deadly wildfires by air and sea.

The latest: Victoria's Premier Dan Andrews declared a state of disaster for six local government areas and the Alpine Resorts overnight — the first time ever in the state. NSW is declaring a seven-day state of emergency, effective Friday morning (local time), state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. It's NSW's third state of emergency during this bushfire season.

The state of play: Australia faces a humanitarian crisis, with gas, food and water beginning to run out on the New South Wales South Coast, 7News reports. There's an elevated fire and heat danger for NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology tweeted Thursday.

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison encountered an angry crowd in the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo, NSW, video footage shows. One asks, "What about the people who are dead, Mr Prime Minister?" Another tells him to "p--s off."

In New South Wales, the NSW Rural Fire Service issued a "tourist leave zone" ahead of the arrival of dangerous conditions Saturday from fires expected to stretch over 150 miles along the South Coast to the state border with Victoria.

In Victoria, state premier Andrews told a news conference 17 people were missing in the East Gippsland fires.

  • An Australian naval ship with a 1,000-person capacity docked off the coast of Malacoota is evacuating many of the 4,000 people sheltering on the beach from fires, authorities said. The HMAS Choules, which specializes in responding to humanitarian crises, is set to conduct several sea evacuations.
  • The Royal Australian Navy has been delivering aid to people in East Gippsland.

In Western Australia, a Catastrophic Fire Danger Rating was issued for Thursday for the Goldfields region of the state, an area dominated by mining communities, amid searing heat and windy conditions.

In South Australia, the Country Fire Authority issued an extreme fire danger warning for Kangaroo Island, the Mount Lofty Ranges, Lower South East, and the lower Eyre and Yorke peninsulas. Forecasters expect temperatures in the state to hit 108°F, with gusts of wind exceeding 18 mph Friday.

The big picture: At least nine people have died in wildfires since Christmas Day, per the Guardian. The death toll from the fires now stands at 18 since fires began last November, 7News notes.

  • Over 1,000 homes have been destroyed by wildfires and some 150 blazes were still burning in NSW and Victoria, according to 7News.
  • Smoke from the blazes has traveled over 1,200 miles to blanket parts of New Zealand's South Island.

Go deeper:

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper