"If you don't need to be in the area, you need to leave," the New South Wales premier has said. Westerly winds and soaring temperatures are set to stoke fires across southern Australia and bring more devastation.
People living in southeastern Australia only have a short window to evacuate ahead of soaring Saturday temperatures and winds which are set to stoke flames and bring more catastrophic conditions, warned authorities on Friday.
Officials made a final plea to more than 100,000 residents of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and South Australia, saying people had to leave the areas by Friday night or face being left entirely cut off from roads and abandoned by rescue services.
"There is still a window for people to leave," said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. "If you don't need to be in the area, you need to leave."She added that the precautions were necessary before "what could be a horrible day on Saturday."
Winds will stoke fires on Saturday
Temperatures are expected to reach a high of 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday with a new weather front moving across likely to stoke flames that have already devastated an area approximately twice the size of Belgium.
A state of emergency was declared in NSW for the third time this fire season, and in Victoria for the first time ever.
At least 20 people have died so far in the fires with more missing and at least 500 homes destroyed. Emergency services have been stretched to their limits and on Friday NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said his team "has no capacity" to control the fires in the region.
'Largest evacuation out of the region ever'
Fuel stocks are running low as queues of cars snake towards Sydney and Canberra, under the supervision of emergency services, as people follow the advice of the emergency services and leave fire-threatened areas. NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance called it the "largest evacuation of people out of the region ever."
The weather front reached Kangaroo Island off the coast of Adelaide on Friday, with blazes raging on the island threatening to consume an entire national park and authorities predicting the loss of many homes.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been accused of not doing enough to support Australia's emergency services during the crisis
Australian PM cancels India visit
Authorities said they hope the mass evacuations will avoid a repeat of Mallacoota, where around 4,000 mostly tourists have been stranded in the area since New Year's Eve. On Friday, the Australian Royal Navy's HMAS Choules and the MV Sycamore arrived to rescue 1,000 people.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been blamed for not doing enough to support the rescue effort, but he announced Friday that he had canceled a planned trip to India on January 13, telling reporters he was "inclined not to proceed" with the visit.
Video clips have been circulating on social media of him forcibly shaking the hands of a pregnant woman and a volunteer firefighter after they initially refused, angered by his disregard for victims of the crisis.
kmm/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)