Residents of small Australian communities told to evacuate as fire approaches

By Will Ziebell
Smoke from bushfires obscures Sydney Harbour

By Will Ziebell

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Residents of two small communities in the southern Australian state of Victoria were told to evacuate on Saturday, as a bushfire burned out of control nearby and as temperatures were set to rise.

    Authorities said the fire could affect the town of Goongerah, nearly 450 km (280 miles) east of Melbourne with a population of 60 people, and the nearby community of Martins Creek over the next 48 hours and residents should leave now.

"This may be your last opportunity to do so before fire activity increases," VicEmergency said in an alert.

"If you choose to stay, emergency services may not be able to help you."

Cooler conditions in many parts of Australia during Christmas week helped contain some fires but temperatures are forecast to rise, once again challenging firefighters.

Temperatures in parts of South Australia rose above 40 Celsius (104 Farenheit) on Friday, while Victoria's capital of Melbourne is forecast to hit 43C (109.4F) on Monday.

Large parts of Australia have suffered through several years of drought, creating tinder dry conditions and proving stressful to the country's native wildlife population.

A video taken in South Australia during Friday's extreme heat showed a koala guzzling water from a cyclist's drink bottle after it had stopped the group of cyclists by sitting in the middle of the road.

Bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) in five states since September and eight deaths have been linked to the blazes.

Local police said on Saturday they had charged one man for lighting a fire without a permit that caused a 40-hectare (99 acres) wildfire to start and have charged another man for allegedly deliberately lighting two bushfires.


(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)