Towns were evacuated and hundreds of residents told to flee on Friday as a record number of emergency-level bushfires raged across two Australian states.
The New South Wales Rural Fire service issued warnings for 17 fires, advising people to leave early or to seek shelter. More than 50 smaller blazes also burning out of control.
The service has also received many reports of people being trapped in their homes, national broadcaster ABC said.
“These fires are very dangerous. If you are near these fires, your life is at risk and you need to take action to protect your life,” NSW Rural Fire service said.
By early evening, the number of emergency-level fires had eased to 15 fires simultaneously burning and three fires at that same level burning in Queensland state to the north.
High winds were fanning fires, turning the sky red in the mid-north coastal town of Port Macquarie, according to posts on social media.
More than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft had been deployed to battle the blaze, fire authorities told the ABC.
“It is a very volatile and very dangerous set of circumstances that we are experiencing right across these fire grounds in New South Wales,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
“Unfortunately we are in uncharted territory this afternoon.”
In Queensland, people in several towns including Cooroibah and Tewantin, with a combined population of around 6,500, were told to leave by the state’s fire and emergency services.
Australia had an early and fierce start to its bushfire season, with an elderly couple killed in a blaze in October.
This is one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons with a record number of emergency warnings and firefighters battling dozens of fires.
Reporting by Melanie Burton.