'Get out now': Thousands told to leave East Gippsland over bushfires
Thousands urged to evacuate part of Victoria state over extreme danger
MELBOURNE: Residents and travellers in part of the Australian state of Victoria were urged to leave yesterday ahead of what is expected to be a day of extreme fire danger.
The authorities said temperatures of more than 40 deg C, strong winds, thunderstorms and a wind change moving across the state meant today would be one of the most significant fire weather days in Victoria's history.
State Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp told both residents and tens of thousands of tourists in the East Gippsland region to leave no later than this morning.
"What we are saying now, based on the conditions that will be confronting us across the state, but in particular in East Gippsland, is if you're holidaying in that part of the state, it's time you left. We are asking you to now leave East Gippsland from that area east of Bairnsdale," Mr Crisp said, referring to a city 280km east of Melbourne.
"We want you to get out now."
The state of New South Wales is also facing severe fire conditions over coming days, with temperatures expecting to peak tomorrow.
"We've got some deteriorating weather conditions over the coming days, particularly Monday and worsening through to Tuesday," said the NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons.
The federal government said yesterday it would compensate volunteer firefighters in NSW as they grappled with the intensity of this year's bushfire season.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said payments of up to A$6,000 (S$5,700) would be available for eligible firefighters who had spent more than 10 days in the field this fire season.
"As this is a very prolonged fire season, this is putting additional demands on our firefighters," Mr Morrison told a news conference.
"It means that the turn-outs and the call-outs have been far more extensive than in previous years, going well and beyond and above what is normally expected of those who are engaged in volunteer service."
Mr Morrison had previously said compensation for volunteers was not a priority, but he has faced increasing political pressure as th fires burn.
The programme is expected to cost A$50 million but will be uncapped with the first A$10 million being made available next month.
Mr Morrison said it would be offered to other states and territories requesting help.
Mr Morrison said Sydney's iconic New Year's Eve fireworks display will go on as planned.
A petition to cancel it and use the money to fight bushfires ringing the city has topped 260,000 signatures.
Said Mr Morrison: "The world looks at Sydney every single year and they look at our vibrancy, they look at our passion, they look at our success.
"In the midst of the challenges that we face, subject to the safety considerations, I can think of no better time to express to the world just how optimistic and positive we are as a country."
But the authorities warned that the fireworks would be cancelled if catastrophic conditions are declared. - REUTERS, AP, AFP