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Australian air force, navy preparing for ‘largest ever evacuation' of people from fire-ravaged Victoria (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

Australian air force, navy preparing for ‘largest ever evacuation' of people from fire-ravaged Victoria (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)
Plans to evacuate thousands of stranded residents from fire-ravaged communities in Victoria are underway; Australian navy ships are anchored offshore as air force vehicles brave the acrid smoke to evacuate the sick and elderly.

At least 18 people have died throughout the current bushfire season in Australia. Eight of the victims perished in the country’s southeast on New Year's Eve, while 17 people remain unaccounted-for in Victoria State. 

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a seven-day state of emergency and the fire service have created a roughly 200km-long “tourist leave zone.”

“We don’t take these decisions lightly but we also want to make sure we’re taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday,” Berejiklian said.

Another heatwave is expected to hit the beleaguered country at the weekend, with gusting winds and temperatures expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius in parts. These conditions have prompted the urgent need to evacuate the roughly 3,000 tourists and 1,000 locals stuck in Mallacoota, Victoria.

The 1,000-person capacity ship HMAS Choules is anchored about 1.5 kilometres off Mallacoota Thursday morning and will set sail for an undisclosed Victorian port on Friday morning with an estimated 800 evacuees on board.

“We’re looking to put 1,000 on the ship. If the number is less than 1,000 then clearly everyone is going to go in that first boat,” HMAS Choules' Commander Scott Houlihan said. 

“If the number is greater than 1,000, then it’s going to be a second load. It’s 16-17 hours to the closest boat port, then we’ve got to come back.”

The multi-role aviation training vessel MV Sycamore will also assist in the relief operation, in what New South Wales’ Transport Minister Andrew Constance called the “largest evacuation of people out of the region ever.”

Weather permitting, evacuations will also be carried out by air if and when the thick, acrid smoke clears; children, the sick and elderly will be given priority.

This season’s bushfires have scorched over 5.5 million hectares (13.5 million acres) across the country, greater than the land mass of Denmark or the Netherlands, and the impending heatwave looks set to exacerbate an already dire situation.

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A terrifying experience. #fire #mallacoota

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“The message is we’ve got so much fire in that area, we have no capacity to contain these fires,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said.

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