Canberra, Australia – Bushfires continue to ravage the south-east of Australia, with unprecedented heat and drought leading to over 200 fire fronts burning across multiple states.
The catastrophic conditions saw the country’s largest peacetime evacuation take place on Friday as towns prepared for the worst.
With strong winds and temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius across much of the region, more than 100,000 residents left evacuation zones in the three worst-affected states of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and South Australia.
Both locals and tourists were strongly encouraged to leave by authorities, or face being stranded once access and supply routes were cut off by fire.
Twelve emergency warnings were issued in NSW and 13 in Victoria, and fire-generated thunderstorms were generated in multiple locations.
The fires have already burned more than 6 million hectares of land, equivalent to an area twice the size of Belgium or most of Ireland.
At least 23 people have died, dozens more are missing and at least 1,300 homes have been destroyed.
Half a billion animals, including native wildlife and farm animals, are estimated to have died.
Towns on the NSW south coast were taken by surprise on New Year’s Eve when a huge fire suddenly moved eastwards overnight.
On Saturday, roads were quiet and town centres deserted, but yellow-lidded recycling bins were placed outside homes to indicate where residents were staying to fight embers and spot fires.
More than 20 new fires had broken out on the NSW south coast between Batemans Bay and Nowra by mid-afternoon, with flames reaching as high as 40 metres outside Nowra.
Thousands of locals took shelter in evacuation centres and on the beach as “too late to leave” warnings were issued for multiple areas.
Telecommunications and electricity remain down in many of the small towns along the coast.
Canberra residents Julie and Jim Stuart left their holiday home at Mossy Point just south of Batemans Bay after days of preparation.
“Our house is on the cliff at Mossy Point,” Julie Stuart told Al Jazeera.
“If we had stayed, the only escape route would have been over the cliff.”
“With the size of the flames and their ferociousness, there is no way we could defend our area if needed,” she said.
Her husband had initially wanted to stay but reconsidered after authorities warned them Mossy Point was likely “going to go”.