Victorian firefighters already battling massive bushfires throughout the state's east fear lightning may spark fresh blazes as hotter temperatures arrive on Saturday.
The national death toll could rise dramatically as grave fears grow for the 28 people unaccounted for in Victoria’s fire-ravaged east, where 50 fires continue to burn.
Another person is missing in NSW, where about 120 bushfires – 70 uncontained – are raging and the number of homes destroyed since New Years Eve has jumped to 449, the Rural Fire Service has confirmed.
Sixteen people are now dead from the region’s blazes, including a 72-year-old man who went missing in Belowra, north of Cobargo, and whose body was found in a car, raising the NSW death toll to eight since Monday.
Communities in the worst-hit areas have been urged to evacuate and emergency warnings – the highest alert level – were in place for five fires late on Friday night.
An EMERGENCY WARNING - BUSHFIRE has been issued for Bendoc, Bonang, Cabanandra, Deddick Valley, Delegate River, Dellicknora, Goongerah, Haydens Bog, Nurran, Roaring Camp, Tubbut.January 3, 2020
“The whole island is burning,” a distraught resident told the ABC.
As thousands of residents and holiday-makers fled the fire zones in both NSW and Victoria, the military has also been supporting the fire response, with about 1200 people evacuated from the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota by navy vessels on Friday.
Asked whether a more national response is needed to bushfires in the future, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said agencies are already working together well.
"After every fire season, these things are reviewed, but there already is very strong coordination," he told Channel Nine's A Current Affair on Friday.
Mr Morrison said he had been working the phones to source more overseas firefighters and aircraft to help fight the blazes and that people should expect more planes will come.
"This is what we do, as things escalate," he said.