Two people have been found dead, seven are missing and at least 100 homes have been destroyed as bushfires rage across eastern Australia, authorities said on Saturday.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) confirmed two people had been killed by a fire near Glen Innes, more than 550 km north of Sydney.
One body was discovered in a vehicle and a woman died after being found suffering from burns on Friday.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told journalists on Saturday that a further seven people were unaccounted for across the state. “I’m sorry to say that number can increase during the day,” Berejiklian said.
This is one of Australia’s worst bushfire seasons and parts of the country are crippled by severe drought.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the bushfires were “simply devastating”.
“We are devastated at your loss & we’ll be there to support and rebuild,” Mr Morrison said in a tweet.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said he had been in a teleconference with key ministers on Saturday morning.
These included the prime minister, Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud, and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.
“The situation as it is at the moment, as it is unfolding, is very, very worrying,” Mr McComack told reporters in the Riverina, NSW.
He said for the more than 100 homes that have been destroyed, the government will act under emergency procedures with regards to financing for those people who are now homeless.
“Those people will not be left without shelter. Those people will not be left without cash,” he said.
A firefighter found the first fatality in a burnt-out vehicle in at the Kangawalla fire, near Glen Innes.
More than 30 people have been injured and at least 100 homes have also been destroyed in raging blazes in the state’s north.
NSW RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said little reprieve in fire conditions could be expected over the next week or throughout the summer months of December, January and February.
“The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures (and) below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months,” Fitzsimmons said.
On Friday, state fire authorities issued a record number of emergency warnings, with 17 fires declared to be at an emergency level with high winds and dry-conditions fanning the flames.
More than 70 fires were burning across the state on Saturday morning, with an emergency warning on two of them.
About 350 koalas living on the reserve in the north coast town of Port Macquarie have died in the bushfires, the group Koala Conservation Australia estimates.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the blazes they battled on Friday – at one point fighting 99 fires, a record 17 of which were at emergency level all at once – had them in “uncharted territory”, with seasoned firefighters of some 60 years experience saying they had never seen such conditions.
Satellite images showed an explosion of fire activity on Friday, with smoke plumes extending hundreds of miles downwind, over the Pacific Ocean.
Queensland fires threaten towns
Authorities said 37 fires were burning across Queensland as of Saturday morning. Thousands of people were evacuated from Noosa overnight with suburbs remaining cut off as a bushfire rages out of control.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said authorities were still accessing if it was safe for nearly 2000 people to return home.
“These fires can change very quickly, it is very dry at the moment and the winds will pick up this afternoon,” Paluszek told reporters.
Tewantin, in Noosa’s north, is cut off and there are concerns spot fires could cause more havoc as temperatures rise throughout the day.
One firefighter broke their leg and a home has been destroyed at Cooroibah.
It is understood the fire started at Cooroibah before jumping the river to Teewah and creeping towards Tewantin.
The Tewantin fire is one of three major fires burning in Queensland, with crews also fighting blazes at Lower Beechmont in the Gold Coast hinterland and at Thornton in the Lockyer Valley.
A severe fire danger is in place for the coastal and adjacent inland areas from Gympie to Ingham, and in the northern goldfields including Charters Towers, Julia Creek and Georgetown..
WA fire warnings
Extremely hot, dry and windy conditions are expected to lash parts of Western Australia on Saturday, increasing the risk of bushfires in the state.
Northern and western parts of WA will cop the worst of the weather, with an extreme fire danger rating expected to be declared in three regions.
The Bureau of Meteorology has tipped the west of the state, including Perth, will get northeasterly gusts, ahead of a northwesterly change in the afternoon.
More moderate winds are expected in the north, with a fresh afternoon sea breeze likely to hit the Pilbara coast.
An extreme fire danger rating has been forecast for the central west, east Pilbara coast and west Pilbara coast regions. Under this rating, any fire that takes hold will be uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast-moving.