Australians are set to endure another two months of terror, as raging bushfires devastating the country stretch firefighters to the limit. The unprecedented bushfires ravaging the country - destroying hundreds of homes and killing 500 million animals so far - will burn until at least March, experts have warned. Top fire officials issued the stark alert as the military scrambled overnight to save families trapped between flames. 'Based on the best estimate we would say [the fires will burn] for at least another eight weeks,' East Gippsland CFA incident controller Andy Gillham told reporters on Saturday. 'We are only at the beginning of summer. In a normal year we would start to see the fire season kick off in a big way around early January, but we're already up there at more than a million hectares of burnt country. 'We are in it for the long haul, this is a marathon event, we expect to busy for at least the next eight weeks.'
He was speaking in the town of Bairnsdale in the Victorian popular tourist area of East Gippsland, which was seen thousands flee for their lives as the sky turned a hellish red. An eerie satellite video showed the scale of the blazes, after high winds and 46C heat on Saturday increased the ferocity of the fires. It showed smoke pouring from the NSW and Victoria fires heading east into the Tasman Sea. The fires, which have devastated the popular coastal towns, are currently just 20km apart amid fears they will merge to form an unbeatable 'megafire'. As of early Sunday morning, there were 150 bushfires in NSW - seven at emergency level - and 53 fires burning in Victoria - 13 of which are at emergency level.
Young families left stranded for days in the town of Mallacoota on Victoria's coast are set to finally be rescued on Sunday, after 1,100 people were taken to safety on Friday. An unprecedented peace time evacuation is in progress, the second evacuation will see young children boarding Australian naval ship MV Sycamore after a planned air evacuation was called for because of heavy smoke. Saturday proved as devastating as experts predicted, with the national bushfire death toll reaching 23 after two people were killed in a blaze on Kangaroo Island. Well-known outback pilot Dick Lang and his son, Adelaide surgeon Clayton Lang, died in the Kangaroo Island bushfire after their car was trapped by flames.
The body of 78-year-old Mr Lang was believed to have been found in their vehicle on Playford Highway at Gosse while his 43-year-old son was found some distance away. Officials confirmed more than 1,500 homes had been destroyed - 1,365 in NSW alone - with more than 300 fires still ravaging the parched land across the country. Late on Saturday, thousands of residents in fire-ravaged Victoria were given evacuation orders as out-of-control blazes threatened several towns. Residents in Freeburgh, Harrietville, Smoko and Wandiligong were told their homes and lives are in danger as fires spread due to the high winds. But Victorians were given some reason to be thankful after the number of people missing in the state dropped from 21 to six after residents were found alive.
Of around 100,000 residents in East Gippsland, 70 per cent have fled. Residents over in NSW were begged to limit their energy use, with people asked to not turn on dishwashers or washing machines. It came as key lines in the Snowy Mountains were ravaged by fires, causing around 15,000 to lose power. Fires continued to spread in the state overnight, with residents of Kangaroo Valley, a lush green area west of the popular tourist town of Berry, being told it's too late to leave. The out-of-control 280,000-hectare Currowan Fire hit the area late Saturday night. This is as well as the Clyde Mountain Fire devastating Batemans Bay, which is now burning across 74,500 hectares.
'The conditions have tested every resource today,' Mr Gillham added. 'We've got one community under threat one minute, then the wind changes and we have another community under threat. 'That's why we continue to tell people do not stay and try and defend if you are not prepared. Leave, now, leave early.'
Australian Defence Force helicopters swooped into the town of Omeo on Saturday to rescue 50 trapped locals, with a similar operation planned for the nearby area of Swift Creek. Up in NSW, reports emerged late on Saturday that around 15 homes were lost in the Snowy Mountains, mainly in the towns of Batlow and Talbingo, as well as in Manyana on the south coast.
Around 4,000 tourists and holidaymakers had been stuck in the small coastal town in the East Gippsland region of Victoria since New Year's Eve after being told it was too dangerous to leave due to raging bushfires. Many fires in the region have already merged and the current risk is the 124,000-hectare fire in the northeast at Corryong merges with another fire in NSW as multiple evacuation orders are issued across Victoria's Alpine region. The unprecedented declaration, which triggers powers introduced after the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, allows authorities to compel people to leave. Tens of thousands of residents and holidaymakers have already fled the fire zones with many sheltering at evacuation points deemed safe by authorities. Meanwhile, fires raging outside Sydney could threaten urban areas on the city's outskirts such as Penrith due to temperatures in the 40s, very low humidity and strong winds.