Mallacoota has been one of the worst hit towns amid the ongoing East Gippsland bushfire crisis.
A horrendously nervous wait surrounded almost 5000 people gathered in the town to ring in the New Year last Tuesday as the fires edged closer, causing a deep red sky to engulf the township.
Some stayed to defend properties, however thousands headed to the safety of the beach as the sirens rang to warn of the approaching danger.
The red sky soon plunged into darkness. Fires ripped through homes and properties, however those on the beach were safe. The damage the fire caused closed the only road in and out of town and it remains to be seen when it will open as safety assessments are ongoing. With power cut and very little phone reception and no way in or out, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was called upon to supply much needed generator power, food and water, while also undertaking Australia’s most significant mass evacuation via sea and air.
Navy vessels, HMAS Choules and HMAS Sycamore, carried more than 900 people to safety last Thursday, shipping the passengers to the safety of Westernport’s Hastings base, arriving mid morning on Friday.
Fire conditions again worsened on Saturday with the town blanketed in darkness at 2.30pm, however this time the town avoided further damage.
By Sunday conditions had somewhat cleared allowing Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters to drop supplies into Mallacoota and Cann River, as well as airlifting a further 400 people to safety from the former.
The evacuation mission is ongoing and while smoke has again blanketed much of East Gippsland forcing air evacuations to cease at times, the Navy ships remain on standby.
Member for Gippsland and Minister for Defence, Darren Chester, said the defence force personnel were doing a wonderful job ensuring the safety of those left in isolated towns.
“These guys and girls have worked their guts out loading supplies, transporting emergency service crews and evacuating people from fire threatened communities,” he said.
IMAGE: Civilian evacuees board a Royal Australian Navy MRH-90 at Mallacoota during the mass evacuation of the bushfire-affected town on Sunday. Evacuations will continue by air when visibility allows, while Navy vessels remain on standby offshore. (Photo: Australian Defence Images)