The sky turned black. The beast had arrived in Mallacoota

At 9am, a time when the morning sun is normally glinting off the inlet, they didn’t need the CFA sirens to tell them it was happening now - Mallacoota as the fire approached

31/12/2019 10:30:00 PM

At 9am, a time when the morning sun is normally glinting off the inlet, they didn’t need the CFA sirens to tell them it was happening now - Mallacoota as the fire approached

At 9am, a time when the morning sun is normally glinting off the inlet, they didn’t need the CFA sirens to tell them it was happening now. They could smell its smoke. They could hear its wind. And they could barely see a thing.

The glow was blood red and soon covered the sky.Standing on the wharf, Jann Gilbert held her phone up to the apocalyptic scene and posted a video on Facebook.‘‘Here comes the fire,’’ she narrated. ‘‘Ashes, embers, it is burning right in town.’’This is the first day in living memory that Mallacoota, a coastal hamlet on the eastern most tip of Victoria, has burned.

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Nearly 40 years ago, in the summer of Ash Wednesday, approaching flames engulfed the neighbouring airfield but did not reach the town limits. This time, there was no miracle wind change and little that could be done.By mid-morning, a massive bushfire building since Saturday had destroyed dozens of homes. By mid-afternoon, despite the frantic efforts of CFA firefighters, the town was still burning.

Mariska and Martin Ascher, who stayed to defend their home north of town, stood on their deck and watched as thick smoke rose above Mallacoota.The scenes at Mallacoota on Tuesday morning.Credit:Mariska Ascher‘‘It has been really overwhelming,’’ Mariska said. ‘‘You look outside and you just don’t know what is happening.’’

When Don Ashby caught a lift through town on Tuesday afternoon, he counted as many as 20 properties destroyed. One was his mother-in-law’s mudbrick cottage. Another was his own home of 20 years.Ashby had evacuated his family to Melbourne and spent Monday night helping a friend to defend her house.

It had been an exhausting night and morning, punctuated by the rapid combustion of gas cylinders at a nearby storage business.‘‘It was like we were in the middle of the battle of the Somme,’’ he said.LoadingWhen he returned to his own home, it looked unscathed. Then he realised it was just the facade that had been untouched by fire. The rear of the house was a blazing ruin. With no CFA tankers nearby and no water pressure left to fight the fire, he could only stand and watch it burn.

‘‘It is all a bit grim really,’’ he said. ‘‘We really copped it.‘‘I have been in a few bushfires before but nothing like this. Nothing like this has happened before. The whole of Gippsland was on fire.’’The fire that hit Mallacoota was devilish in both intensity and timing. In the week between Christmas and New Year, Mallacoota’s permanent population of about 1000 swells to near 8000.

Some tourists heeded the warning to leave early but, in the aftermath of this fire, about 5000 are left stranded in town.With the only road in and out of Mallacoota severed by the fire and the Princes Highway still blocked, it is unclear when they will be able to leave.

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LoadingSome of the hardest hit areas include a section of the Genoa-Mallacoota Road on the outskirts of town and the ‘‘Paris end’’ of Mallacoota, near the golf course, where Don Ashy’s home and a beautiful row of mudbricks previously stood. There are reports that the golf course clubhouse was razed.

Once the smoke cleared and the sky faded to an amber hue, people marooned on the Mallacoota foreshore or riding out the storm in boats could look across the inlet and see houses burning on the opposite shore.Throughout the day, Linda Hilvert-Bruce posted a stream of videos and witness accounts on the Mallacoota community

news Facebook page. Her family has lived in Mallacoota for generations. She described its day of fire as scary and heartbreaking.There is relief in Mallacoota that, given the ferocity of the fires, there are no confirmed deaths as of yesterday. There is also frustration that more could have been done to prepare this town for a fire everyone knew was coming.

Don Ashby said he and other residents last week wrote to the East Gippsland Shire urging them to shut the caravan park and did not receive a reply. Ms Hilber-Bruce said there needed to be radical changes to local land management.The fires burning near Mallacoota on Tuesday.

Credit:Nine NewsYears ago, her family ran cattle along the coastal plain that stretches south from Mallacoota to Rame Head beach. Every winter, they would conduct fuel reduction burns. Today, that land makes up part of the heavily wooded Croajingolong National Park.

‘‘They stopped doing those slow, controlled burns in the winter time,’’ she said. ‘‘That has left a lot of fuel for wildfire to go through. It is just devastating everything.’’Mark Tregallas worked as a local cop in Mallacoota for 16 years. He said the town realised the danger on its doorstep four days ago, when a fire started near the Wingan River. In the space of a day, the fire morphed from a 300 hectare blaze to a 23,000 hectare inferno that had burnt down to the coast.

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‘‘We knew that if a sou-west change came through it would blow the firefront straight at Mallacoota,’’ he said.LoadingTregallas prepared as best he could for what was coming. He decided it was too risky to protect his home on Genoa-Mallacoota Road. He packed a camper trailer with water, fuel, gas cylinders and some carefully chosen photographs and keepsakes and on the night before the fires, drove his family down to the foreshore.

‘‘Everyone ended up spending quite a harsh night in the smoke down at the boat ramp,’’ he said.‘‘Imagine 300 cars squashed up together with people sleeping in reclined car seats and blown up mattresses on the ground and people lying in their boats.’’The town hall was transformed into a makeshift emergency centre, where tourists and residents listened in the dark to the approaching fire.

Tregallas said when the fire came, the town remained strangely calm. When he spoke toThe Age, he did not yet know whether he had a home to return to. The local IGA supermarket was back open, running on a generator, but many roads in town were still blocked by CFA trucks.

Read more: The Age »

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Meanwhile, we wait. So little information about the fire’s direction. My son’s makeshift smoke protection outfit NewYearsEve airquality trapped pambula

'When will this nightmare end?': Inside Mallacoota's bushfire 'apocalypse'Residents and holidaymakers in Mallacoota in Victoria's far east describe the sky turning from pitch black to blazing red as fire raced towards the seaside town. It will end after the mandatory prison time policy adopted for all arsonists the town is glowing red It is like hell on earth It must be hotter than the weather as fires r burning around it When we stop exporting coal, land clearing, overpopulating, driving, flying and generally being utterly selfish bastards?

Fire caused Mallacoota’s sky to turn black and rain down ash: resident | Sky News AustraliaA resident of Mallacoota in Victoria's East Gippsland says locals heard the sound of 'explosions' as the sky in the area turned from pitch black to scarlet while fire raced towards the seaside town.\n\nGrant Shortland, who evacuated to a boat on the Mallacoota waters during the crisis, said he heard the sound of “crackling” as the fire descended.\n\nMr Shortland told Sky News it was impossible to see at any distance from the boat.\n\n“It was absolutely pitch black like nothing you’ve ever seen and it was raining ash.”\n\nAuthorities have confirmed four people are missing and numerous homes have been destroyed as bushfires ravaged East Gippsland.\n\nImage: Twitter \u002F BradleyWDeacon All the while I heard that our fearless leader Scotty has tweeted something from overseas. Now there’s leadership! god bless everyone please be safe but is that the real photo or change ? we dont know anymore please answer sky Gum trees “exploding”.

Thousands told to 'prepare to run into the water' at Mallacoota beach | Sky News AustraliaDavid Jeffery – the owner of the Wave Oasis bed and breakfast in Mallacoota - has described the town as a “disaster zone”. \n\nConditions in the coastal town, in East Gippsland in Victoria’s far east, deteriorated early on Tuesday morning. \n\nMore than 4000 people were forced to take shelter at the town's beach, with residents told to run to the water when the CFA sirens sounded. \n\nImage: Twitter\u002Fbluesfestblues Yet Dan Andrews is still on a luxury holiday auspol AustraliaBurns KathyWa16879695 Batemans bay is a shocker too. Nine news.

'This one sounds like a monster': Mallacoota on edge as fire closes in'The concern is a big fire could be coming, but it will be coming in the middle of the night,' Darryl Burns, ranger in charge of fire and emergency operations in East Gippsland, has told residents. vicfires melbourneweather Please no 😰 Oh well, that's the price for a Royal Commission in Melbourne

Victoria Bushfires LIVE: wind change spares Mallacoota and CorryongFIRES: Last night, 300 locals slept in the Lakes Entrance relief centre, on this basketball court. Another 200 or so people slept in cars around the building. More live updates here: vicfires lakesentrance

Victoria Bushfires LIVE: wind change spares Mallacoota and CorryongThere's 'relatively good news' out of Mallacoota, says the CFA's Steve Warrington. The major fire front has bypassed the town. But some houses have burnt down and Mallacoota remains isolated. Live updates here: vicfires 🙏🏻 How horrible I can’t imagine. The terror of people fleeing and the red glow. My heart and prayers go out to you. Ask yourself.............Why are Australians lighting fires?