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Mass evacuations in Australia as weather set to worsen blazes

People are evacuated from Mallacoota, Victoria state, as the bushfires rage
People are evacuated from Mallacoota, Victoria state, as the bushfires rage
People are evacuated from Mallacoota, Victoria state, as the bushfires rage

By Shonal Ganguly and Steve McMorran

One of the largest evacuations in Australia's history is under way ahead of hot weather and strong winds that are forecast to worsen devastating wildfires raging across the country.

More than 200 fires were burning and warnings of extreme danger over the weekend prompted mass evacuations.

Traffic was gridlocked as people fled and firefighters escorted convoys of evacuees as fires threatened to close roads.

Navy ships were called in to pluck hundreds of people stranded on beaches.

Victoria premier Daniel Andrews declared a disaster across much of the eastern part of the state, allowing the government to order evacuations in an area with as many as 140,000 permanent residents and tens of thousands more tourists.

In South Australia state fire officials said the weather conditions were a cause for concern because fires were still burning or smouldering.

"The ignition sources are already there," Country Fire Service chief officer Mark Jones said.

The early and devastating start to Australia's summer wildfires has made this season the worst on record.

About five million hectares of land have burned, at least 19 people have been killed and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed.

This week at least 448 homes have been destroyed on the New South Wales southern coast and dozens were also burned in Victoria.

Ten deaths have been confirmed in the two states this week and Victoria authorities also say 28 people are missing.

Fires are also burning in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.

The navy evacuated hundreds of people from Mallacoota, a coastal town in Victoria cut off for days by wildfires that forced as many as 4,000 residents and tourists to take shelter on beaches.

Landing craft ferried people to the HMAS Choules offshore.

Smoke from the wildfires has choked air quality and turned daytime skies to near-night-time darkness in the worst-hit areas.

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