Australia deployed military ships and aircraft Wednesday to help communities ravaged by apocalyptic wildfires that destroyed homes and sent thousands of residents and holidaymakers fleeing to the shoreline.
Navy ships and military aircraft were bringing water, food and fuel to towns where supplies were depleted and roads were cut off by the fires. Since Monday, seven people have died as destructive wildfires tore through communities in New South Wales and Victoria states on Australia’s southeast coast.
On Tuesday morning, 4,000 people in the coastal town of Mallacoota fled to the shore as winds pushed a fire toward their homes under a sky darkened by smoke and turned blood-red by flames. Stranded residents and vacationers slept in their cars, and gas stations and surf clubs transformed into evacuation areas. Dozens of homes burned before winds changed direction late Tuesday, sparing the rest of the town.
Victoria Emergency Commissioner Andrew Crisp told reporters the Australian Defense Force was moving naval assets to Mallacoota on a supply mission that would last two weeks and helicopters would also fly in more firefighters since roads were inaccessible.
Conditions cooled Wednesday, but the fire danger remained very high across the state, where four people are missing.
“We have three months of hot weather to come. We do have a dynamic and a dangerous fire situation across the state,” Crisp said.
In the New South Wales town of Conjola Park, 50 properties were confirmed destroyed and cars were melted by Tuesday’s fires. More than 100 fires were still burning in the state Wednesday, though none were at an emergency level. Seven people have died this week, including a volunteer firefighter, a man found in a burnt-out car and a father and son who died in their house. Two people in New South Wales are missing.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said firefighting crews would take advantage of easing conditions on Wednesday to restore power to critical infrastructure and conduct some back burning.
The early and devastating start to Australia’s summer wildfires has led authorities to rate this season the worst on record.