Fresh warnings issued for bushfire-threatened Australian towns

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 5:16 PM

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A massive out-of-control bushfire in Australia’s Victoria state that has destroyed properties and killed livestock prompted fresh evacuation alerts on Saturday for several rural towns.

Emergency authorities early Saturday issued new warnings for the blaze, which on Thursday prompted more than 2,000 people to leave towns in the state’s west and head to the nearby regional hub of Ballarat, 95 km (59 miles) west of state capital Melbourne.

“Leaving immediately is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous,” Vic Emergency said on its website, regarding the fire that has burnt through more than 11,000 hectares (110 square kms).

The highest danger was for small rural communities of Bayindeen, Chute, Elmhurst and Mount Lonarch, the agency said.

Jason Heffernan, chief officer of Victoria state fire department, said on Friday that early reports indicated losses of sheds and livestock in the blaze, with one home confirmed destroyed.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on Saturday that three homes and several outbuildings had been destroyed.

Around 1,000 firefighters supported by more than 50 aircraft have battled the fire since it broke out earlier this week.

Australia is currently in the grips of an El Nino weather pattern, which is typically associated with extreme phenomena such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.

The last two bushfire seasons in Australia have been subdued compared with the 2019-2020 “Black Summer” when bushfires destroyed an area the size of Turkey, killed 33 people, 3 billion animals and trillions of invertebrates.

(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by David Gregorio)