More than half a million hectares have been burnt in Victoria’s destructive East Gippsland fires, with the military expected to start helping the relief effort as more blazes have started.
Seven emergency alerts remain in place in Victoria’s east, four people are still missing and thunderstorms continued to create dry lightning, sparking new fires overnight.
“The fire threat in our state has increased overnight. There were some more thunderstorms come through with dry lightning and we have a number of new fires in Mount Hotham, King Valley and we have 45 going fires in the east of the state,” Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp told ABC News on Wednesday.
Three fires in East Gippsland have already joined and Crisp said there is worry that a fire burning in northeast Victoria at Corryong could join with them too.
Some blazes are now spreading between NSW and Victoria.
The fire that drove thousands of people to shelter on the beach at Mallacoota is now about 100,000 hectares and moved into NSW.
Crisp said 24 structures have been destroyed at Buchan, 19 at Sarsfield, 10 at Mallacoota and 10-to-15 at Cudgewa.
After a request from Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday, military personnel will start arriving to help with the relief effort.
Aircraft including Black Hawk helicopters are expected to land in the east of the state on Wednesday with other aircraft and naval vessels due in the coming days.
The aircraft are expected to help move fire crews, supplies and help with evacuations as needed.
Naval vessels including the HMAS Choules left Sydney bound for the East Gippsland coast on Tuesday evening and training vessel MV Sycamore has also been deployed.
It comes as thousands of people remain stranded in remote communities because of blazes as firefighters continue their efforts.
Parts of the Princes Highway will be opened on Wednesday to allow people to escape.
The state government also announced a bushfire response task force to avoid red tape in dealing with fallout from the blazes.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville will visit the region on Wednesday.
According to forecasts from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), early January is likely to see a weakening of the current positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) to neutral, which when heightened in spring, is often “associated with a more severe fire season for southeast Australia in the summer months.”
This is likely bring increased rainfall to northern Australia, Dr. Wenju Cai, Director of the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research at CSIRO, told the Australian Financial Review. However, for the intense bushfire conditions in eastern Australia, “the effects of these drivers are likely to linger,” senior BOM climatologist Robyn Duell said, according to local media reports.
“If we look at the first quarter of 2020, we can see that days remain likely warmer than average.
“Evenings are also likely to be warmer than average. So again, a continuation of that elevated risk of bushfires and heatwaves will likely continue into the first quarter of 2020.
“In terms of rainfall, we have quite a neutral outlook.
“For most of Australia, there’s no strong indication either way of it being particularly wet, or particularly dry.”
With additional reporting by NTD.