Tourists and residents have been told to evacuate a 250km stretch of the New South Wales south coast as devastating bushfires threaten the area.
Hundreds of fires are burning out of control across the country in a horrific season which has killed 18 people, razed 1,298 homes and destroyed millions of hectares of land.
Dangerous conditions which fanned blazes on the New South Wales south coast and in eastern Victoria on Wednesday will return on Saturday as the mercury hits 46C.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has urged people to flee the area from Batemans Bay down to the Victoria border.
'If you are planning on visiting the South Coast this weekend, it is not safe. Do not be in the area on Saturday,' the service said.
At 10am on Thursday the HMAS Choules arrived off the coast of Mallacoota in eastern Victoria where 4,000 people are stranded due to road closures.
Troops in helicopters are delivering food, water and medical supplies from the ship to the shore.
The vessel, which can carry 1,000, may make two or three trips to evacuate people from the area to Westernport in Melbourne before Saturday.
An evacuation zone stretching more than 250 kilometers along the New South Wales South Coast has been set up as scorching temperatures and more devastating bushfires threaten the area
HMAS Choules' enhanced medical team disembarks a MRH-90 Taipan maritime support helicopter as the ship prepares to provide support to the communities affected by bushfires
Holidaymakers attempting to flee Batemans Bay before temperatures reach 46C on Saturday were trapped on the roads with long rows of cars seen piled up on Thursday
HMAS Choules (pictured leaving Sydney Harbour on Wednesday) will provide relief to 4,000 people who remain stranded in Mallacoota, Victoria
On Wednesday more than 300 residents were seen queuing outside a Woolworths in Ulladulla, NSW as fires raged
Devastation: A kangaroo rushes past a burning house in Conjola, Australia, on Tuesday, December 31, 2019
RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told the ABC they were desperate to get tourists out before Saturday as strong winds, scorching temperatures and low humidity was forecast.
'We have so many fires still burning down there … and quite close to communities as well,' he said.
'We won't get containment on those fires before Saturday.'
Major highways leading out of the leave zone, including the Princes Highway between Milton and Nowra, were reopened on Thursday. Falls Creek at Jervis Bay Road and Corks Lane at Milton has also reopened but with reduced speed.
However, many people have struggled to flee as many petrol stations have either run out of fuel or are without power. Queues of cars have been seen at the remaining petrol stations around Batemans Bay that still have stock.
Tankers of 60,000 litres of fuel were brought in overnight to help with the disaster. But evacuating the area was still a struggle with large lines of traffic seen heading north out of Batemans Bay on Thursday.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the HMAS Choules was able to carry roughly 700 passengers at a time.
'We think around 3000 tourists and 1000 locals are there. Not all of those will want to leave, not all can get on the vessel at one time,' he said.
'Then there's a whole lot of planning going on about where that vessel will go, it will be a long trip, potentially a 10 or 12 hour trip to take them to another port and then to provide them with all the support they will need.'
Supplies including satellite phones will be dropped at communities such as Cann River on Thursday.
Thousands of people are stranded in the seaside town of Mallacoota (pictured trapped on the beach on Tuesday)
This picture taken on December 31, 2019 shows a firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra on the NSW south coast
Business owner Sally Anne Wilson (left) stands in front of her destroyed shop with her partner Christopher Lee in Cobargo, NSW, Wednesday, January 1, 2020
On Wednesday more than 300 residents were seen queuing outside a Woolworths in Ulladulla, NSW, which has experienced power outages
This satellite image shows the devastation of the fires devastating the coastal town of Batemans Bay, on the NSW south coast, early Wednesday morning as the blaze continues to spread
Hundreds of fires are still burning out of control across the country, destroying millions of hectares, killing 18 and leaving 1,200 homes destroyed, with catastrophic 46C weather forecast for Saturday
Water supplies in towns in both Victoria and New South Wales have been affected by the fires.
On Tuesday boil notices were issued for Quaama, Cobargo, Bermagui, Beauty Point, Fairhaven, Wallaga Lake, Wallaga Lake Heights, Wallaga Lake Koori Village and Akolele after disinfection infrastructure was lost.
Power was restored to 11,000 homes in New South Wales' South Coast on Wednesday but more than 30,000 people are still without electricity or internet.
People who had suffered horrific burns or were injured in the fires were forced to wait for more than 24 hours until they were rescued by the Navy as roads remain closed.
Since Monday, eight have been killed and four are missing feared dead in the fires in NSW and Victoria.
On Wednesday a 42-year-old man was rescued by a Navy helicopter from Cadgee, south of Moruya, and a 49-year-old woman and 23-year-old woman were rescued from Nowra.
Traffic has been barely moving as hundreds flee Batemans Bay in New South Wales before temperatures skyrocket on Saturday
NEW SOUTH WALES:
- 15 lives lost, four in the past 24 hours
- Two people remain missing
- More than 100 bushfires burning
- 3.6 million hectares burned, greater than the size of Belgium
- 1087 homes confirmed destroyed
- More than 40 bushfires of significance burning
- One person dead, four more missing
- More than 500,000 hectares burned
- 68 structures confirmed destroyed but this number is expected to rise significantly
- More than 30 bushfires burning, seven of significance
- 8000 hectares burned
- One home confirmed destroyed
- Two lives lost
- About 20 bushfires burning, seven of significance
- More than 60,000 hectares burned
- More than 90 homes confirmed destroyed
- 7 bushfires burning
- 250,000 hectares burned
- 45 homes confirmed destroyed
- More than 40 bushfires burning, two of significance
- 1.2 million hectares burned
- One home confirmed destroyed
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that trees had fallen on roads and had become welded to the bitumen making the task of clearing highways even more difficult.
There are concerns that food supplies will deplete quickly with no way to deliver more food.
On Wednesday more than 300 residents were seen queuing outside a Woolworths in Ulladulla, which has experienced power outages.
Store manager Craig Scott said the supermarket was running on a recently purchased generator - but it was close to running out of fuel.
He was hoping local boat owners would share their diesel to ensure essential food and milk wouldn't spoil.
'The power's out in town, but we decided to open the store just for necessities, so people can get nappies, baby food, all that sort of stuff,' he said.
In the town of Tura Beach there were long queues of people waiting to fill up on petrol and to get supplies at the supermarket.
One woman called Kerry told the ABC: 'A car queue of 50 waiting to get petrol and people in Woolworths clearing the shelves … apocalyptic.'
Ulladulla Woolworths opened its doors on Wednesday to give locals unable to leave the chance to stock up on supplies
A firefighter hosing down trees and flying embers in an effort to secure nearby houses in Nowra, NSW, on Tuesday
Vehicles gutted by bushfires are seen in the town of Lake Conjola in New South Wales on January 1, 2020
Conditions improved on Wednesday for firefighters but RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned of hellish weather this weekend which would be worse than Tuesday, despite roads reopening.
'Unfortunately that also correlates with where we have some of the worst, most damaging ad destructive bushfires in NSW at the moment,' he said.
Very high fire danger is forecast on Thursday for eight fire districts on or west of the Great Diving Range while high fire risk is due for some coastal regions.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said communities needed to brace for the worrying weekend and more fatalities possibly coming to light in coming days.
'Many people who have been here for decades are just completely shocked that the fire reached as far as it did,' she told reporters at Batemans Bay.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys asked for patience as police and utility providers tried their best to get power and telecom services restored down the south coast.
'We have to make sure that when we restart the power, we do that with safety and confidence, that it will remain on. People need to understand this is not a simple or easy task.'
Mr Fitzsimmons said the fires would dominate a vast area from the south eastern corner of NSW up to Illawarra and Shoalhaven. Tourists were warned to get out while they still could.
Eight people have died in bushfires since Monday, seven in New South Wales and one in Victoria.
A Rural Fire Service firefighter conducts mopping up near the town of Sussex Inlet on December 31
By AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS
As fires took hold over the NSW south coast on New Year's Eve, evacuees, daytrippers, dogs and a tortoise crammed into a bowling club.
Sussex Inlet man David Warner was among a group of locals who had travelled to Nowra by bus before the Princes Highway was blocked off on Tuesday.
'When we came in, everything was blue, it was all good and then 11 o'clock (there was) all these fires, smoke, sirens everywhere,' Mr Warner told AAP on Wednesday.
'I said, we're not going to get back.'
Unlike those who had evacuated to Bomaderry Bowling Club, Mr Warner had nothing with him.
He said those running the centre were very nice but 'none of us slept at all'.
'It was shocking,' he said.
'I will never forget this New Year's.
'It'll be stuck in my head 'til the day I die.'
Near people and their pets - including dogs, cats and a tortoise - he watched Sydney's famous foreshore fireworks on a giant projection screen hanging at the front of the room as sausage sandwiches were served.
'I forgot it was New Year's actually