A fire is burning out-of-control on French Island off the coast of Victoria, with residents warned that it will be too dangerous to save them if they stay.
The unpredictable blaze is in the Western Port, about 60km southeast of Melbourne.
An emergency warning – the highest alert level – has been issued for the fire at Ridge Track, which is quickly spreading south towards McLeods Road.
People in the area have been told leaving now and heading towards the Tankerton Pier is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous.
The raging fire is burning out-of-control on French Island (pictured), with residents told to evacuate before it’s too late
The Victorian government issued an emergency warning on Twitter, with residents told to evacuate to Tankerton (pictured)
The fire on French Island (pictured) sits just 60km southeast of Melbourne, and was burning out-of-control on Saturday
‘If you don’t feel safe, don’t wait, leaving now is the safest option – conditions may change and get worse very quickly,’ a warning from the Victorian government reads.
‘Emergency services may not be able to help you if you decide to stay.’
French Island is the biggest island in Victoria, with 70 per cent of it a glorious national park.
The island has the most dense koala population in Australia, adding to fears about the animal’s future with thousands now in danger.
It is a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland at Stony Point pier, or Cowes on Phillip Island, to the island’s Tankerton Jetty.
Authorities earlier downgraded emergency warnings in Victoria’s alpine region despite difficult fire conditions overnight.
It is home to diverse wildlife living in coastal mangroves, swamps heath, grasslands and blue gum forests.
Popular with holidaymakers, it offers bushwalking, bird watching, horse riding and cycling.
Images from a helicopter over French Island, just 60km from Melbourne, showed the raging fire (pictured) burning near the centre of the island
Residential properties can be seen surrounded by smoke as the fire on French Island threatened communities on Saturday (pictured)
The fire comes as Melbourne suffers terrible air quality (pictured on Wednesday) thanks to the nearby bushfires
There are 15 still raging in Victoria on Saturday afternoon, predominantly in the East Gippsland and the northeastern alpine regions.
Most are burning at ‘watch and act’ level or lower, but emergency warnings had been issued for fires near Mount Buffalo in Victoria’s alpine region, and briefly for Bulart, in the state’s southwest on Friday.
Both were downgraded to a ‘watch and act’ alert early on Saturday.
Authorities said firefighters were able to slow the spread of the blaze near Mount Buffalo but conditions could change at any time.
Victoria has suffered terrible fires since before Christmas. Mallacoota (pictured) was particularly badly hit
The Victorian fires devastated East Gippsland (pictured) and prompted Australia’s biggest ever peace time evacuation
People living in Buffalo Creek, Merriang, and Merriang South had been told strong and erratic winds had significantly increased fire activity near them, and it was also recommended they evacuate.
In East Gippsland, a registration service has been established for people who fled Mallacoota, Genoa and Gipsy Point and want to return now that conditions have improved.
When it is safe to do so, emergency services and the Australian Defence Force will begin flights or escorted road transport into Mallacoota and surrounds, Victoria Police have confirmed.
Incident management specialists from the US and Canada arrived at Melbourne Airport on Saturday morning, ahead of being deployed to fires in the northeast and East Gippsland.
Also arriving from the US was the first of four large air tankers, which are set to be positioned strategically around the country over the next 50 days.
A contingent from the Fiji Military Force will also arrive in Melbourne on Saturday evening to start induction training before being deployed to East Gippsland, where a group from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force is already at work.
The arriving 54 personnel will be welcomed by the local Fijian community.
So far the blazes have burnt through more than 1.5 million hectares, 387 residential homes and 602 non-residential buildings.
AUSTRALIA’S BUSHFIRE CRISIS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Evacuations are underway and emergency alerts are in place in NSW, Victoria and South Australia as authorities predict the devastating bushfires will continue burning until at least March.
At least 28 people have been killed in blazes across the country since the bushfire season began in October.
NEW SOUTH WALES/ACT
- Around 90 fires were burning in NSW on Thursday morning
- 20 people dead
- More than 5.2 million hectares burned – equal to the metro areas of the five mainland state capitals
- 1,870 homes confirmed destroyed, more than 3,774 outbuildings and 200 facilities razed
- 19 bushfires burning in the Gippsland, northeast and alpine regions as of Thursday morning
- Five people dead
- More than 1.5 million hectares burnt
- 387 homes have been damaged or destroyed
- 602 non-residential structures have also been damaged
- Three people, including two from Kangaroo Island, are dead
- More than 274,000 hectares burnt
- 161 homes confirmed destroyed, along with 413 sheds and outhouses
- 2.5 million hectares burnt
- 48 homes confirmed destroyed
- 1.5 million hectares burned
- One home confirmed destroyed
- 30,000 hectares burned
- Two homes confirmed destroyed
- Five homes confirmed destroyed