Australia bushfires: Nine killed by out-of-control fires within a week

Many people in Victoria woke up to the New Year freshly without a home as Australia's worst bushfire season continues to destroy livelihoods, land and lives.

Nine people have been killed by the bushfires across New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria since Christmas and at least four more are unaccounted for.

With the dawn of a new decade came milder weather conditions, authorities concentrating on back-burning to contain the wildfires within the communities. 

In Nowra, NSW, dramatic scenes captured local firefighters caught in a flashover - when exposed combustible material gets so hot, it releases flammable gas and ignites.

Using fire blankets to shield themselves from the burning embers, the firefighters made a miraculous escape.   

On Tuesday, there were two more casualties. Patrick Salway, 29, and his father Robert, 63, died while trying to save their home in Cobargo. 

The terror of those who didn't - or couldn't - evacuate has been captured in numerous photos and videos. A teacher in Bilpin, just 90km north-west of Sydney's CBD, filmed the flames climbing a gully to her mother's property. Due to being well-prepared, the property was saved. 

A number of civilians remain missing, with desperate rescue attempts hampered by erratic winds and unpredictable flames. Many of those lucky enough to escape are suffering from burns.

Daybreak revealed more carnage. Once idyllic, seaside holiday homes have been reduced to rubble, with towns on the south coast practically wiped off the map.

Thousands of holidaymakers are trapped in the fire zones in NSW and Victoria as the main arterial link between Sydney and Melbourne - Princes Highway - remains closed.

"We're talking about the buildings being impacted, damaged or destroyed numbering in the dozens across these various fire grounds," Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Walls of flames surrounded Mogo Zoo near the border of NSW and Australian Capital Territory (ACT), threatening its 200 exotic animals.

Staff likened it to a war zone.

"It felt like Armageddon...we were just racing from every inch of the wildlife park making sure that no fires were able to take hold... we were putting out spot fires all the way through till 1.30am and we're back on it now," said zookeeper Chad Staples.

Thanks to the zoo staff who worked into the morning, the animals survived. Some staff even took the smaller animals home to safety.

"It was the small things like marmosets and tamarins and red pandas that came up to my house," Staples said.

At Batemans Bay in NSW, people fled to the local beach, spending New Year's Eve waiting for rescue.

The navy is starting to make its way there by boat to deliver food and water supplies and begin the rescue operation.

Wednesday's priority was to prevent large fires from jumping over state lines between Victoria and NSW.

Firefighters are doing as much as they can now in preparation for the weather forecast to worsen by the weekend.

"At the very least, weather conditions on Saturday will be as bad as what they were on Tuesday and that's why all of our people on the ground, thousands of them, are taking advantage of the milder conditions," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Millions of Australians woke up to a new year - and a frightening new reality.

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