Huge fires continue to burn in Australia, with one near Bega on the NSW south coast destroying dozens of properties, and several in southwest Victoria sweeping across 40,000 hectares.
Four serious fires still burning in Victoria had likely been started by lightning strikes about 9pm on Saturday.
In New South Wales, some residents were evacuated from Tathra to nearby Bega, while others were told it was too dangerous for them to move. The destructive blaze destroyed dozens of properties and was one of 26 bush and grass fires burning across the state on Sunday.
A fire near Bega in NSW affected the towns of Tathra and Tarraganda, and crossed the Bega River about 4pm yesterday local time.
NSW Rural fire service tweeted this morning that 70 homes and buildings were thought to have been destroyed.
At this stage it is believed that more than 70 homes and other buildings have been destroyed in the #Tathra bush fire. #NSWRFS Building Impact Assessment teams in area this morning to confirm exact number.
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) March 18, 2018
More than 150 firefighters were battling the bushfire in the early hours of Monday morning. It remained out of control about 1am local time, although conditions began to ease after a southerly change on Sunday night.
While the RFS had warned it was too dangerous for Tathra locals to leave the area, some residents were evacuated to Bega. An evacuation centre was established at the Bega Showground and animals were being accepted.
NSW Family and Community Services said up to four people had been hospitalised with smoke inhalation by late Sunday evening. One firefighter has been treated for a minor injury.
The NSW RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the blaze had “burnt some seven kilometres right into Tathra itself, unfortunately impacting a lot of homes in the area”.
“I think we’ll hear in days to come some of the dramatic experiences people have had this afternoon,” he said yesterday.
“I think it’s been a pretty horrendous time for both firefighters and residents in that township.”
An emergency warning was downgraded to ‘watch and act’ this morning, while advice warnings were in place for a number of other fires in the state.
Total fire bans were declared in 11 areas around NSW on Sunday.
The Rural Fire Service said it had been a dangerous and difficult day in the state, with 26 bush and grass fires burning, 12 of which had been uncontained.
The service’s Paul Best said authorities would not know the full extent of the damage until later on Monday.
“Bush fire impact assessment teams will move across the fire ground today, and undertake those assessments of properties that have been destroyed or damaged. So that will occur throughout today,” Mr Best said.
Hundreds take shelter from Victoria fires
In Victoria, about 800 people reported to five relief centres and more than 400 people asked for help from the State Emergency Service as fires burned over the weekend.
On Sunday, about 280 firefighters were battling the blazes, with assistance from 29 aircraft.
Country Fire Authority assistant chief officer Rohan Luke said conditions were extremely difficult for firefighters working in the dark, in rough terrain, and with 90km/h winds.
“I’ve had feedback from some of our members today, that are seasoned veterans, and they’ve said this is the hardest fire that they’ve had to fight, in their memory.”
An unknown number of sheds and pieces of farm machinery, as well as hundreds of beef and dairy cattle were destroyed over Saturday night and Sunday, with approximately 40,000 hectares of land damaged.
Mr Luke said it was fortunate there was no loss of human life.
“There has been significant stock losses, property losses which are currently being assessed and obviously farm sheds,” he said.
“I think at this stage we’re looking at over 12 [houses lost]. It’s still yet to be determined. We’re not in a position to identify the locations of those.”
There were still four main fires in the area about 1.30am local time including near Penshurst and Hawkesdale north-west of Warrnambool; near Gavroc south-west of Terang; near Terang and Cobden; and a smaller fire at Camperdown east of Terang.
At one point, up to 40 towns were issued with an emergency warning or watch and act alert as hot weather and strong winds caused numerous blazes to flare across farmland around Camperdown, Warrnambool and Hamilton, but most of those were lifted this morning.
Victorian Emergency Services Minister James Merlino said most of the fires were started by a lightning front that went through the region, but investigators would make “a full determination of the causes”.