Bushfire in Victoria, Australia Kills 1, Leaves 17 Missing

There are grave fears for 17 people missing in Australia’s south-eastern state of Victoria, where massive, deadly bushfires rip through the East Gippsland region.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Thursday none of the 17 people missing in the region are emergency services personnel.

The increased number comes after family members confirmed Buchan man Mick Roberts had died at his home.

“There are at least 17 people that at this stage we cannot account for. Their whereabouts are unknown to us, plus there is one person confirmed as deceased,” Andrews told reporters at Bairnsdale.

“Whilst Victoria Police have not been through the official identification processes, it is clear that the Roberts family have identified Roberts and we send our condolences to their family and the Buchan community to whom he was so well-known and very highly regarded.”

Andrews did not narrow down where the missing people are thought to be in East Gippsland.

“It may be some of those people are safe but we hold very significant fears for the welfare of anybody who is missing at this time,” he said.

The military has arrived to provide relief and resources for fire victims across the region, as well as evacuating people from Mallacoota.

About 24 communities are isolated and reaching them to deliver supplies has been difficult.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government was offering any assistance requested.

“Our task has been to fully support and provide whatever assistance is necessary through all the various agencies of the Commonwealth,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“The provision of disaster payments that have now exceeded some more than $21 million in New South Wales alone and we expect more of that to continue in Victoria as the full devastation of the fires there becomes more evident.”

victoria east gippsland australia bushfires
Smoke billows during bushfires in Buchan, a town in the east Gippsland region of Victoria, Australia, on Dec. 30, 2019. (Glen Morey/Social Media/via Reuters)

All fires in Victoria are currently sitting no higher than a watch and act alert, but smoky conditions have meant flights to rescue people, deliver supplies and swap out firefighters have at times been stopped.

Firefighters are being helped on Thursday by moderate conditions, with temperatures in East Gippsland in the low to mid 20s expected to be paired with fairly light winds of up to 20 km/h.

But the mercury is forecast to creep up in the region on Friday, before reaching the 40s on Saturday, when the heat, hot winds and possible thunderstorms will increase the risk of new fires.

People in regions such as East Gippsland and the alpine areas were being urged to leave on Thursday before the conditions worsen.

“I can’t stress enough, these types of conditions that we are facing again in our state … we have existing fires, these fires are unpredictable,” said Assistant Emergency Services Commissioner Deb Abbott.

“These fires have already caused significant damage. They have caused significant loss and our community needs to act now.”

People near the Corryong fire in Victoria’s northeast near the NSW border are being doorknocked and told to leave the region before the weekend.

A series of community meetings were being held on Thursday in Mallacoota, where 3000 to 4000 people remain stranded.

The navy will start evacuating Mallacoota at first light on Friday morning, with about 800 people to leave.

By Kaitlyn Offer and Caroline Schelle