More than 4,000 people, including residents, hundreds of tourists, and children, are trapped on beaches near the town of Mallacoota on Australia’s east coast, surrounded as raging wildfires fueled by strong winds are barreling toward them. Officials are telling them they may need to jump into the sea to save themselves.
David Jeffrey, a local business owner, told BBC News that he and other residents sheltering on an adjacent beach nearby were preparing to jump into the sea before sudden winds pushed the flames in the other direction. “There’s a rock wall that they’ve built to keep back the sea, and that was where we were going to jump into the water if the radiant heat had hit,” he told BBC by Skype. “It looks a lot like Armageddon. It’s terrifying.”
The Australian government announced that it is readying naval ships and military helicopters to carry out evacuations after all roads leading to the area are now blocked by raging blazes. More than 200 fires are now burning across the the states of New South Wales and Victoria.
The apocalyptic images cut a stark contrast as fireworks lit up over Sydney Harbour as New Year’s celebrations rang out, despite widespread protests over fears of the pyrotechnics starting more fires amid the country’s heat and wildfire emergency.
A father and son are reported to have died and four other people are missing after several people tried to escape through the fires, despite government warnings to shelter in place until they can be rescued, according to government officials.
The Australian government has called for assistance from the U.S. and Canada, which are preparing to send fire crews to help fight the blazes that have burned some 10 million acres and killed more than a dozen people over the last several weeks. The fires have been fueled by extreme temperatures and strong winds coupled with a three-year drought.
Several people are trapped on beaches around Batemans Bay, which is a popular New Year’s Eve destination for those who travel to Australia to enjoy the summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Many of those trapped have posted eerie photos on social media of the blood-red skies and night-like conditions in the afternoon as smoke from the raging fires blocks the sun.
One woman posted a terrifying photo of her young son wearing a mask and a life jacket on a boat as they tried to escape Mallacoota.
Firefighters have also been trapped in the fires, with one unit posting a video as they tried to reach safety as the fire surrounded their truck.
Australian authorities say they have no prediction for when the fires will be contained.