KEY POINTS

  • Australia bushfires forcing evacuations in Victoria state
  • Authorities ask tourists to vacate in eastern regions near Melbourne
  • Sydney’s New Year fireworks get official nod amidst demands for cancellation

Massive bushfires in the Australian state of Victoria forced the evacuation of thousands of residents and holidaymakers as the temperature soared and gushing winds expanded the fire threat. 

Most of Victoria is under fire alert. Officials are concerned that lightning strikes on dry forests could trigger more fires. Soaring temperatures, strong winds, thunderstorms and a change in the direction of the wind could make Monday riskier.

Melbourne is facing a temperature of more than 40 degrees Celsius and authorities have directed 30,000 tourists to leave East Gippsland.

"If you’re planning on visiting East Gippsland today or Monday, don’t do it. If you’re already visiting East Gippsland, you need to leave the area today," Andrew Crisp, Victoria's state emergency management commissioner, said in a statement

"If you live in East Gippsland, you need to move to safer locations."

Currently, Australia is battling more than 100 fires.

Tourists asked to vacate urgently

Crisp urged tourists camping in the area east of Bairnsdale, 280km east of Melbourne to vacate immediately, BBC noted.

The Daily Mail reported that despite warnings, tourists staying in the area have been reluctant to evacuate. Locals expressed concern they might be trapped if they stay put. 

Many holiday parks in the East Gippsland region said guests wanted to stay back and have a relaxed approach. One tourist tweeted she decided to vacate after persuasion.

Retailer Richard Darby told Mail that ignoring the expert warnings “could be suicide.” 

Emergency services warned that the Princes Highway, the lone road connecting many seaside suburbs could close at short notice in the morning.

East Gippsland Mayor John White said bushland in the region has been bone dry following years of drought. The fire danger in Victoria is very severe in seven of the nine districts.

The fire warning also caused the cancellation of a major music festival, Falls New Year's Eve festival in Lorne, about 140km south-west of Melbourne.

Over 9,000 people are already camping on the festival site. But the venue has only a single track of access and organizers are worried festival goers might find it hard to evacuate quickly in the wake of an emergency.

Sydney New Year fireworks get the nod 

Meanwhile, overruling objections and demands to divert funds of New Year fireworks in Sydney to fire fighting, the City Council gave the green light for New Year 2020 fireworks.   

The City council’s nod means Sydney will live up to its tradition and hold the famous New Year’s Eve fireworks this year too despite a 260,000-signature petition calling its cancellation, reported The Telegraph

Bushfires have destroyed an area the size of Belgium and unleashed toxic smoke into Australia's major cities Bushfires have destroyed an area the size of Belgium and unleashed toxic smoke into Australia's major cities Photo: ZEDUCE / Wendell TEODORO

Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the council’s decision, and called it a demonstration of “Australia’s optimism and positivity.”

The biggest fires have been raging near Sydney in New South Wales. Already 900 homes have been destroyed and 3.48 million hectares of land burnt in the state while Sydney came under an expanding blanket of smoke.

Prime Minister Morrison rushed home cutting short his holiday in Hawaii ahead of Christmas as criticism against the government surged that it was doing too little to address climate change and drought in the country.

Meanwhile, fire warnings were extended to Western Australia through South Australia to Tasmania.