Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday called up 3,000 military reserve troops to combat the raging bushfire crisis which has so far claimed the lives of 23 people with high temperatures and strong winds threatening to worsen the conditions across the country.
This is the first time that reservists have been called up in such a large number “in the living memory”, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said.
Morrison said 23 deaths have been confirmed so far this summer, including the two in a blaze on a highway on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.
The Prime Minister, after calling up 3,000 military reserve troops, said: “Today’s decision puts more boots on the ground, puts more planes in the sky, puts more ships at sea”.
The ongoing bushfire crisis continues to worsen the deadly conditions in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
More than 14,000 hectares have been destroyed in South Australia’s Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island.
Media reports said that authorities were trying to get into 18 isolated communities in East Gippsland region.
About 100,000 people were said to be in the fire zone of East Gippsland and according to police up to 70 per cent of people had now left the region.
Evacuation orders were in place across Victoria’s Alpine region and navy was ferrying evacuees to relief centres.
“We have seen wind gusts up to 67 km/h already today, up at Mount Hotham. It’s predicted when the change comes through we will see gusts up to 80 km/h. ‘We have a long way to go today.
Today is a very challenging day for all of us,” Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
Temperatures are expected to hit 40 degrees at Gippsland and 45 degrees in the northeast. Fears of dry lightning storms are expected to cause more fires. About 50 fires continue to burn across
Victoria with more than 820,000 hectares destroyed – mostly in the East Gippsland and northeast of the state.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday declared the state of emergency, advising residents to leave immediately.
A massive evacuation in New South Wales, dubbed as one of the biggest in Australia’s history, is currently underway with extreme fire conditions being predicted for six fire districts in the southeast.
Severe conditions have been forecast for Sydney, the Hunter and the central ranges. More than 130 fires are burning across NSW including 40 in the state’s southeast.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged people to evacuate bushfire zones.
“I’m pleased to say that we’ve never been as prepared as we are today for the onslaught we’re likely to face. All of the major road networks are still open, but we can’t guarantee that beyond the next few hours. So, there are still windows for people to get out,” she said.
Over 3,000 firefighters are on the frontline, with 31 specialist strike teams in place across NSW.
Australia’s military has been assisting with aerial reconnaissance, mapping, search and rescue, logistics and aerial support for months.
A “tourist leave zone” was also declared for a 14,000-square-kilometre area between Nowra, South Coast region of New South Wales and the edge of Victoria’s northern border.
Prime Minister Morrison has cancelled his planned first visit to India from January 13 due to the catastrophic bushfire crisis.