Thousands of tourists and locals were left stranded on a beach in southeast Australia on Tuesday as bushfires ravaged a popular tourist area, leaving no escape by land.
Up to 4,000 people are trapped on the foreshore of the encircled seaside town of Mallacoota, in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, where authorities said nearby fires were manifesting extreme self-generating thunderstorms and “ember attacks.”
On Monday, Victoria’s Emergency Management Commissioner, Andrew Crisp, told residents and holidaymakers to leave the area by 9 a.m. or risk being stranded. However, in a later update he said it was now “too late” to get out of the area safely.
Firefighters were deployed to protect those stranded on the beach, and preparations are underway for a sea or airborne evacuation if needed.
“We’ve got three strike teams in Mallacoota that will be looking after 4,000 people down on the beach there. We’re naturally very concerned about communities that have become isolated,” he added.
Hundreds of people have taken to social media to share apocalyptic images of the area, which is currently blanketed in a thick cloud of red haze.
It comes after authorities warned up to 30,000 tourists currently visiting the area to leave as strong winds pushed an emergency-level bushfire towards the town.
The fire moving towards Mallacoota began at Wingan River on Sunday and spread rapidly towards the coast, RNZ reported.
Meanwhile, in a press conference on Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews said that four people are currently missing in Victoria.
“There are a number of people who remain unaccounted for—four people, and of course we have fears for their safety,” Andrews said.
“We cannot confirm their whereabouts, but as soon as we can bring any further information to you, then, of course, we will do that.”
Andrews also asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison for military assistance amid the raging fires, suggesting naval vessels help get supplies to isolated communities or heavy-lift aircraft to work alongside the state’s air fleet.
However, no decisions regarding military assistance have been finalized as of yet.
On Monday, around 100,000 people were urged to flee five Melbourne suburbs. The swirling bushfires killed a volunteer firefighter who was battling a separate blaze in the countryside.
Another volunteer firefighter from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service also died on Monday when the truck he was traveling in was overturned by strong winds and crashed at Jingellic, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) east of Albury.
Authorities named him as 28-year-old Samuel McPaul, who was reportedly expecting his first child in May with his wife, Megan, whom he married last year.
Two of his male colleagues, aged 39 and 52, also suffered burns in the incident but are said to be in a stable condition.
Another eight people have been killed so far this fire season, while more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed, according to local reports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.