More than 4,000 people were trapped on a beach by advancing fires in southeast Australia on Tuesday as devastating blazes encircled the seaside town of Mallacoota, where sea or airborne evacuation was being planned.
"Mallacoota is under attack, it is pitch black and very scary," Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said. "We have 4,000 people on the beach and nearby who are protected by our firefighters."
Many people took to boats out at sea for fear that the fire would grow closer to the beach, which was being protected by firefighters.
Authorities have been warning nearly 30,000 holidaymakers to leave the popular seaside area for days and seek shelter elsewhere.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said four people were missing. "We can't confirm their whereabouts," he said on Tuesday.
Fires are raging across many parts of the country, after 100,000 people were evacuated from the suburbs of Melbourne on Monday.
Massive fire fronts continue to blaze across other states. Sixteen "emergency fires" were designated in New South Wales and Victoria on Tuesday.
Batemans Bay: 'We lost our home'
In the seaside town of Batemans Bay, New South Wales, residents also fled to beaches for safety as fires encroached upon the town.
Authorities have not yet confirmed whether buildings have been affected, but Youtuber Chloe Morello, a resident of the town, tweeted "We lost our home" after documenting herself fleeing from her house.
Three people are feared dead in small towns in New South Wales on Tuesday.
"We have three people unaccounted for and the potential for three potential fatalities as a result of the fire on the south coast," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told media.
"These fires moved quickly this morning," New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on Tuesday in a warning to residents. "They pose a serious threat to life. Do not be in their path. Avoid bushland areas. If the path is clear, move to larger towns or beaches to take shelter."
Police were checking drivers' licenses for people entering and exiting the areas affected by fire on Tuesday, redirecting people who were not residents.
The fire service tweeted a warning about a fire in Shoalhaven, New South Wales.
'Fire tornado' claims life
Firefighter Samuel McPaul became the ninth confirmed fatality since the fires broke out weeks ago. His 12-ton fire-truck was lifted into the air and spun around in a "truly horrific" incident, Fitzsimmons told reporters on Tuesday.
"It was a fire tornado or a collapsed pyro convective column that had formed above the main fire front. That resulted in cyclonic winds that moved across the fireground," Fitzsimmons explained.
Two other firefighters in the truck were seriously burned and are being treated in hospital.
The "freakish" weather incident resulted in the fire truck being lifted and dumped on its roof.
Over 34,000 square kilometers (13,100 square miles) of land have been razed since the fires began in October and more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed.
Conditions are expected to worsen with high temperatures and no rain in the forecast.
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ed/cw (AFP, dpa)