Australia bushfires: Govt agrees to deploy military assets to evacuate coastal Victorian communities

Thousands of people remain trapped on Mallacoota's coastline in East Gippsland, Victoria as out-of-control bushfires ravage the area.

Victoria's Emergency Management commissioner Andrew Crisp said there was no evacuation order for Mallacoota, despite other Gippsland localities being evacuated on Sunday and Monday.

More than 200,000 hectares of land have reportedly been ravaged by Victoria's bushfires. The amount of properties destroyed is unclear.

Three people have died due to the fires since Monday, including a father and son in the New South Wales (NSW) village of Cobargo and a volunteer firefighter.

Four people remain unaccounted for in Victoria and another missing man is presumed dead in NSW.

What you need to know: 


  • Roughly 4000 people fled to the beach in Mallacoota, Victoria. Some have boarded personal watercraft. It is too late and too deadly for locals to leave
  • The East Gippsland region of Victoria is under an emergency alert. There are eight fires in Victoria and eight in New South Wales, the south coast particularly under siege
  • Victorian Emergency Management commissioner, Andrew Crisp, said there has been "significant property" losses across East Gippsland
  • There are four people unaccounted for in Victoria, with "real fears for their safety"
  • In NSW, a father and son have been confirmed dead in Cobargo. One person remains missing 
  • A volunteer firefighter died in NSW on Monday
  • The sky is blood orange and red, with many describing the scenes as "apocalyptic"
  • Minister of Defence Linda Reynolds confirmed the federal government will deploy military vessels to Victoria in order to evacuate coastal communities, like Mallacoota, where people are trapped

These live updates have finished.

7:57pm - According to 9News, the two men who died in Cobargo on Tuesday - a father and son - decided to stay behind and try to save their property.

The 63-year-old and 29-year-old were killed when a bushfire tore through the NSW township on the south coast.

The outlet says the 63-year-old's wife and the 29-year-old's mother decided to leave the Wandella home on Monday evening.

Four people remain missing in Victoria while another is unaccounted for - and presumed dead - in NSW.

7:42pm - NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said this year is "absolutely one of the worst fire seasons" they have experienced. 

There have been eight civilian fatalities and three firefighter fatalities this season.

Fitzsimmons also noted the fire service's "grave concerns" for the missing civilian in New South Wales, who is believed to be an elderly man. 

More than 3.6 million hectares of land have been burnt and more than 900 homes have been destroyed during 2019's bushfire season.

7:34pm - The federal government has agreed to supply military vessels to Victoria in order to evacuate coastal communities.

Australian Minister of Defence Linda Reynolds said on Twitter: "I've spoken with Scott Morrison [Prime Minister] and authorised ADF [Australian Defence Force] to deploy extra assets to the Victorian fires."

Three helicopters and one aircraft will fly to East Sale. HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore will sail to East Gippsland, where thousands remain trapped on the shore of Mallacoota.

"A Joint Task Force has been stood up with army personnel and liason officers," Reynolds said.

"Naval vessels, military helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are being prepared for bushfire evacuations in Victoria, at the request of the state government," ABC political reporter Stephanie Dalzell confirmed.

7:13pm - The thousands of people scattered along the coast of southern NSW could be in for a "very uncomfortable and difficult night".

Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: "The important thing is we wouldn't want to be moving lots of people out by water overnight.

"We are very mindful - we're sympathetic to the challenges."

Fitzsimmons said the fire service would look at moving people out on Wednesday alongside the police.

"We will target arterial roads when it is safe to do so to start creating safe passage where we can to get people out, particularly those that are holidaying or visiting that want to get home after the experience of the last 24 hours or so.

"But the last thing we want is people chancing things on the road networks, trying to get out. The roads are closed going west. The roads are closed going south. The roads are closed going north.

"It is going to be a very long, difficult and dangerous night still ahead."

A number of Surf Lifesaving clubs along the coast have opened their facilities to evacuees.

7:11pm - A spokesperson for Fire and Emergency NZ (FENZ) has confirmed a further 22 firefighters are being deployed to Australia to help battle the bushfires.

They are due to leave on January 8.

7:00pm - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that payments to volunteer firefighters will be extended to Queensland.

Queensland volunteer firefighters will receive AU$6000 payments - the same amount in compensation offered to NSW firefighters last week.

The move follows Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's call for action.

6:29pm - NSW Bureau of Meteorology says a strong southerly change moving along the south-east of the state is bringing strong winds, storms and dry lightning - which are causing more issues on the firegrounds. 

"[It] may also cause issues for those on the water," the bureau said on Twitter. 

5:54pm - CFA chief officer Steve Warrington said the major fire front has now "bypassed" Mallacoota - "relatively good news" for locals.

Warrington said people "cheered" down at the jetty when the news was announced.

He warned the public to remain vigilant as active fires continue to burn in the area. Firefighters continue to extinguish houses that have been destroyed on the outskirts of the township.

However, the town is still isolated within a ring of fire.

5:38pm - Victoria's emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp confirmed 43 buildings have been destroyed in East Gippsland. 

"We will see significant property losses across East Gippsland," Crisp said.

Princes Highway remains closed and a number of communities are isolated. Food packs are being delivered to those localities.

Eight emergency warnings remain in Victoria.

5:27pm - The two people confirmed dead in the bushfire crisis were reportedly a father and son.

NSW police deputy commissioner Gary Worboys said police found the men deceased in a house in west Cobargo, NSW. 

Authorities said the missing person in Narooma, an elderly man, is also presumed dead.

5:17pm - NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed that two people have died in Cobargo, NSW. They were reported missing earlier on Tuesday.

"It's been confirmed today that there are two deceased persons in Cobargo," she said.

"The police have confirmed that. A third person is missing with grave concerns for their safety, west of Narooma. Our message is please follow instructions."

The Premier said it was a "horrible" day.

5:10pm - Twitter user Princess Gemma claims helicopters and ferries are coming to evacuate people from the beach in Mallacoota. Newshub have yet to validate the claims.

A Mallacoota local says the fires are critical in the residential areas of Raheen and Radley. He describes the tea trees as "exploding infernos".

4:50pm - Amid the raging fires, Mallacoota residents and tourists remain on the shore, jetty and in the community centre, with many taking to the sea and the lake in their personal boats.

The township has also lost power, with AusNet Services reporting 5700 properties in East Gippsland are without electricity due to the fires, as well as another 1800 in north-east Victoria.

According to 9News, an estimated 200,000 hectares have been ravaged by the bushfires in East Gippsland as of Tuesday morning.

Three strike teams continue to look after the thousands of people stranded in Mallacoota.

4:41pm - Photos have been shared on Twitter of properties alight in Mallacoota.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese says "perhaps hundreds of homes" have been destroyed across the country. He is currently speaking to reporters in Brisbane. 

"The fire does not respect state boundaries... this is a national issue. This is a national emergency and it requires a national response from the government," he said. 

4:37pm - In the Victorian city of Bairnsdale, The Guardian Australia reporter Calla Wahlquist spoke to an SES commander, who said most tourists have been "understanding" about not getting to their New Years Eve holiday destinations.

"Some tourists who are heading down for New Year's Eve and they booked a motel for 4 nights on the coast - well, too bad," the commander told Wahlquist.

4:31pm - The main street of Cobargo in NSW has been ravaged by the fires. Two people remain unaccounted for in the village, with another missing in the township of Belowra. According to local media, they are feared dead.

On Monday, a NSW Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighter, Samuel McPaul, died. His truck flipped amid a "fire tornado" in Jingellic, roughly 110km east of Albury in NSW. He was expecting his first child in May.

Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on Tuesday that the 10-tonne truck was hit by winds so extreme at the Green Valley fire that it flipped on its roof.

A number of properties have been destroyed by the Batemans Bay bushfire on NSW south coast.

4:15pm - Mallacoota evacuees continue to shelter in the community centre, on the waterfront jetty, on the lake and on the shore, many remaining in the water on boats.

According to local media, the fire reached the water's edge by 1:30pm. A man told ABC Gippsland he could see fire in the town centre and "20 metre high" flames on the outskirts of the township.

According to Vic Emergency, as of roughly 3:30pm (NZ time) there are a multitude of bushfires in Mallacoota including on Mortimer St, Bastion Point Rd, Rasmus Ave, Allan Dr and Shady Gully Dr, as well as a number of building fires. 

One fire is currently travelling from Wingan River in an easterly direction and has impacted Mallacoota, Karbeethong and Gipsy Point. 

Crews are focusing their efforts on asset protection around the township.

An assembly area has been established at the Mallacoota Main Community Hall at Allan Drive and the Genoa-Mallacoota Road is closed.

3:55pm - Images continue to be shared of the "apocalyptic" devastation in Mallacoota and the East Gippsland region in Victoria. The state is continuing to battle eight emergency bushfires. 

A historic timber bridge has been completely destroyed by the Gippsland fires. A Twitter post by GippsNews shows the destroyed Genoa River Bridge on Old Princes Highway, close to Mallacoota.

According to 9News, a small, rural school - Clifton Creek Primary - has been destroyed in East Gippsland.

3:48pm - Mallacoota local Jann Gilbert has shared another video of the devastation on Facebook. She said she has lost her house and her boat.

"Van gone also. Just the car left and the fire front is heading straight for it," she wrote.

3:43pm - ABC Gippsland has shared a heartbreaking picture on Facebook of a child out on Mallacoota lake as the family attempts to escape the flames. 

"A mother took this photo. Her two primary school aged sons are in the boat with her. They're out on the Mallacoota lake trying to stay safe from fire, it doesn't look like it but it's daytime," the outlet wrote.

"Around 4000 people are gathered at the Mallacoota boat ramp. Waiting to see how close the fire will come.

"It's been confirmed some homes around Mallacoota have been lost."

3:34pm - CFA incident controller Ben Rankin told ABC Radio "a number of houses" have been impacted in Mallacoota.

"It is a day to adhere to the warnings that are coming out," he said. 

In NSW, "40 houses" are reportedly alight near the coastal town of Ulladulla. Radio stations are telling locals to save life only.

3:28pm - According to The Guardian, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed on Tuesday he had requested the Australian Defence Force's (ADF) assistance as bushfires continue to ravage the state.

Andrews has reportedly spoken to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about additional support from the navy.

"We've made some requests to the [ADF] for their support, both in terms of making damage assessments but also some of these isolated communities can be accessed by sea," he said.

Seventy firefighters from Canada and the US have also been requested to help Victoria battle the bushfires, The Guardian reports. 

3:10pm - A bowling club, school and golf club have reportedly been lost to the bushfires in Mallacoota.

2:54pm - According to Sydney Morning Herald, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews is looking at evacuating the 4000 people on Mallacoota's foreshore - despite Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons saying they are not "yet" looking at sea evacuations for coastal towns.

"Obviously, if we find that there are a lot of people isolated and stranded as a result of seeking safety and seeking shelter, then we will look at that relocation or that movement option, but we're just not there yet. We're still dealing with the enormity of the unfolding and very dynamic fire situation," he told reporters.

2:46pm - Fitzsimmons said in a press conference this afternoon that there are "three potential fatalities" in NSW - two in the village of Cobargo and one in Belowra.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Fitzsimmons said it was "absolutely" the worst bushfire season on record in NSW.

2:41pm - Batemans Bay on the south coast of NSW paints a similar picture, with locals huddled on the beach under a blood orange sky. 

According to Twitter user Andrea Cantle, Batemans Bay has lost power and is "pitch black" at 12:20pm (local time).

In a press conference, NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, confirmed there was "significant impact, damage and destruction" on the NSW south coast, including to schools.

2:29pm - A radio station host in Mallacoota told ABC Gippsland she is trapped inside her studio. 

Francesca Winterson told the station she can see "ash burning down the main street". 

She claims she has been broadcasting for two days straight. 

"I can't go anywhere," she said.

She told the outlet the building has a metal roof and double-glazed windows.

"We've got as much chance, really, as anybody else at the moment and now the ember attack is really starting to... look like fireworks night."

2:25pm - Campers in Mallacoota were reportedly told to throw their gas cylinders into the water as the fire burned closer overnight. Some locals have told reporters they could still hear a number of cylinders exploding.

2:17pm - "Survival. When will this nightmare end?" East Gippsland local Jann Gilbert has posted on Facebook, alongside a number of videos of the scene in Mallacoota. 

"Smoke has cleared a bit, which is good but I don't think we'll be going anywhere soon."

2:13pm - Videos and images on Twitter show the terrifying scene.

2:08pm - "You are in danger if you are in the Mallacoota and Karbeethong area and need to act immediately to survive," Vic Emergency said in their warning.

"The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately. It is too late to leave. Leaving now would be deadly."

2:02pm - An emergency warning issued by Victoria Emergency says there are currently two out-of-control bushfires that threaten Mallacoota, Gipsy Point, Karbeethong, Tamboon, Club Terrace, Combienbar and surrounds.

One fire is currently travelling from Wingan River towards Karbeethong. The fire front was predicted to impact the Mallacoota township at roughly 11am (local time).

The second fire is travelling from Goongerah towards Chandlers Creek. 

Ash and embers are falling ahead of the main fires, which may cause spot fires.

For more information, read here

1:59pm - People have been told to get under the water when the trucks activate their sirens in an attempt to escape the fires. Around 4000 people are trapped on Mallacoota Beach - and it is too late for them to leave.