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31 Dec, 2019 03:00

‘Utterly surreal’: Thousands trapped on Australian beach by massive fire, turning skies RED & raining embers (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

‘Utterly surreal’: Thousands trapped on Australian beach by massive fire, turning skies RED & raining embers (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

A raging brush fire has trapped up to 4,000 people on a beach at a popular tourist resort in Australia, turning what many hoped would be a sunny holiday into a nightmare, complete with deadly ember storms and blood-red skies.

Inching its way toward the seaside town of Mallacoota early on Tuesday, the inferno has left thousands of tourists and locals stranded with no route of escape, as officials warn of extreme fire-induced thunderstorms and “ember attacks” in the area.

“We've got a fire that looks like it's about to impact on Mallacoota,” Andrew Crisp, emergency management commissioner in the state of Victoria, told ABC, adding that three “strike teams” of emergency workers had been sent to watch over the thousands trapped on the beach.

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Though a number of structures, including homes, have already succumbed to extreme temperatures and embers given off by the blaze and carried by high winds, no serious injuries have yet been reported in the town. Some areas have lost both electricity and phone service, according to local media.

As the flames marched eastward on Mallacoota, sweeping over 200,000 hectares, startling images emerged on social media showing skies dyed bright red, with the encroaching fires and a thick blanket of smoke transforming the idyllic seaside town into a scene from Armageddon.

The skies turned solid black in some areas, where billowing plumes of smoke successfully blotted out the Sun and turned day back into night. “It's not pleasant, it's pitch dark here and the emergency vehicles have disappeared from sight,” Francesca Winterson, a resident and local radio presenter, told ABC.

My home's in the fire path, I won't have a home, that's just the way it's going to be; we have to try and be calm.

While authorities had asked some 30,000 tourists in the region to flee the fires in recent days, some were unwilling or unable to heed the warning, leaving them stuck directly in the inferno’s path. Preparations are now underway for sea and airborne evacuations, AFP reported, while some of those trapped are donning life jackets in the event that they have to flee into the ocean, which authorities have deemed a “last-resort option.”

A number of other fires continue to rage elsewhere in Australia, which has seen hundreds of brush blazes in recent months amid a lingering drought. Two people are missing in the town of Cobargo some 200km (125 miles) north of Mallacoota, where fires damaged or destroyed dozens of properties on Monday, while a volunteer firefighter was also killed battling flames in the state of New South Wales. Two others remain unaccounted for elsewhere in the region.

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