‘If you’re told to leave, you must leave’: mass evacuations as Australia’s bushfires intensify

Australian authorities urged another mass evacuation across the heavily populated southeast on Thursday as a return of hot weather fanned huge bushfires threatening several towns and communities. Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews urged communities to be on alert ahead of the extreme conditions. “If you receive instructions to leave, then you must leave,” Andrews said in a televised briefing. “That is the only way to guarantee your safety.” Parts of Kangaroo Island, a wildlife-rich tourist spot off the southeast coast where Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday made a plea for foreign tourists not to be deterred by the fires, were again evacuated on Thursday. “I urge everyone to heed warnings, follow advice, and to head to the east part of the island, which is deemed safe at this point,” South Australia Fire Chief Mark Jones said in a separate briefing in Adelaide. A third of the island has been destroyed. Twenty-seven people have been killed this fire season, according to the federal government, as the monster fires have scorched through more than 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) of land, an area the size of South Korea. Thousands have been made homeless and thousands have had to evacuate repeatedly because of the volatility of the fires. Read more | Australia’s bushfire crisis A huge blaze has also now begun threatening Perth, in western Australia, with emergency warnings issued in several suburbs as the fire moved toward them with frightening speed.  A thick smoke cloud hung over most of the city late in the afternoon, while residents in Mardella, Hopeland, Wellard, Casuarina and Oldbury were told to leave their home if they have a safe escape route, and otherwise to stay indoors and shelter in a room with two exits and a water supply. The fire burnt 1,000 hectares in its first four hours, and authorities warned it is out of control and highly unpredictable. Australia bushfires | Tell us your story Also in Western Australia, hopes to get stranded travellers across the only sealed road that connects the state to South Australia were dashed Thursday when the fires blocking the Eyre Highway got worse. People have been stranded on the Nullabor, on both sides of the state border, trying to get home for several days, relying in part on local truck stops for vital supplies. Also on Thursday, the Australian Academy of Science released a video summarising the impacts of the crisis on Australia’s native wildlife. It is now believed one billion animals have been killed, and many species lost forever. New South Wales fire fighters said more than 2,600 homes have been incinerated or badly damaged this fire season, including 1,870 destroyed. On the same day, the state government announced a $1billion (£530,000,000) fund for reconstruction efforts. The commitment comes on top of more than $200 million already committed by the State, and a $2billion national fund provided by the Federal Government. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state funds would be used for infrastructure, while the Federal relief money would go directly to people. Australia fires gallery Mining billionaire Andrew Forrest also pledged $70million (£36,820,000) for fire relief and reconstruction. Mr Forrest did, however, receive some criticism for blaming the majority of the fires on arson, when police and fire authorities in all affected states have made clear that is not the case. It emerged this week that the Bureau of Meteorology found 2019 was the hottest and driest year ever recorded in Australia. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s problematic handling of the crisis continued on Thursday too, when he said “thankfully we have had no loss of life” on Kangaroo Island while visiting an area where a father and son had been killed by the blaze. When he was quickly corrected, he said: “Yes two, that’s quite right. I was thinking about firefighters firstly.”