The Australian navy has begun evacuating hundreds of people trapped in the fire-ravaged town of Mallacoota on the Victoria coast.
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Two ships, HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore, will pick up about 1,000 people, MP Darren Chester said.
Mr Chester called it an "unprecedented mass relocation". Conditions were "smoky but fine", he added.
Some 4,000 residents and tourists fled to the beach on Monday night, when racing bushfires encircled the town.
The military evacuated around 60 people by air last night.
By Thursday night, 963 had signed up for Friday’s naval evacuations, with a few more doing so this morning, Commander Scott Houlihan said.
The evacuees will sail to Port Welshpool, local media reported — a 16-hour voyage down the Victoria coast.
The larger ship, HMAS Choules, has a "few hundred beds". Further trips are possible, depending on demand.
Thousands of people are also fleeing parts of neighbouring New South Wales, where a state of emergency is in force.
Since September fires have killed 19 people in the two states.
More than 1,200 homes have been destroyed. At least 28 people remain missing after fires this week alone.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under attack for his response to the fires.
He was heckled by angry locals in Cobargo, New South Wales, and had to cut short his visit to the fire-hit town.
Mr Morrison has also faced criticism for his climate change policies, with many saying urgent action must be taken to prevent such a crisis happening again.
But he insists that Australia is meeting the challenge "better than most countries" and fulfilling international targets.
Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government was not doing enough.
Mr Morrison was earlier criticised for going on holiday to Hawaii as the bushfire crisis worsened. Public anger at his absence eventually forced him to cut that trip short.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a week-long state of emergency, which started at 08:00 local time on Friday (21:00 GMT on Thursday).
Thousands of people are already fleeing a vast "tourist leave zone" in NSW, with supplies running low in some cut-off towns. It’s been called "the largest relocation out of the region ever".
High temperatures and strong winds are forecast for the weekend, leading to "widespread extreme fire danger".
The state government has warned that conditions are likely to be "at least as bad" as New Year’s Eve, when hundreds of homes were destroyed.
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews declared a state of disaster for six areas and resorts, including Mallacoota.
"Some people will want to go, some people will be happy to stay," he said of the evacuation.
There’s never a single reason why wildfires escalate and, in the case of Australia, a perfect storm of factors is involved.
The country regularly sees fires but they are usually centred on bushland while the current blazes are striking forests, which burn hotter and higher so are harder to tackle.
There’s plenty to ignite. A programme to create firebreaks — deliberately clearing vegetation to prevent it from catching fire — has unfolded less quickly than hoped. It’s slow, labour-intensive work, and expensive too.
On top of all this, a pattern of unusually dry weather over the past three years culminated in the driest spring on record at the end of last year.
That left many areas vulnerable to fire, particularly when 2019 also proved to be Australia’s hottest on record — and warmer conditions cause more evaporation, adding to the risk.
All this has sharpened Australia’s divisions over climate change. A coal-rich economy that depends on fossil fuels faces new questions about its own hand in raising temperatures.
In the capital Canberra — an administrative region surrounded by NSW — bushfire smoke meant air quality there was rated worse than any major global city on Thursday, according to Swiss-based group AirVisual.
An elderly woman died after being exposed to the smoke as she exited a plane at Canberra airport, local reports say. Australia Post has suspended deliveries in the city "until further notice".
Two regions of Western Australia (WA) were also facing catastrophic fire danger on Thursday, and parts of South Australia were expected to see extreme conditions on Friday.
Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.
However, many parts of Australia have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.
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