Mass evacuations urged as wildfires threaten south-east Australia

In this screencapture, smoke rises from wildfires in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, on Dec 27, 2019. PHOTO: AP

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Tens of thousands of holiday-makers and residents are being urged to evacuate a popular tourist spot in south-east Australia as a heatwave sweeping through the region threatens to escalate wildfires.

In a televised appeal on Sunday (Dec 29), Victoria state's Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp called on some 30,000 people vacationing around Lakes Entrance in the East Gippsland region to leave immediately.

The area, about four hours' drive east of the state capital Melbourne, is already threatened by three major blazes, while soaring temperatures, wind and lightning could see more fires break out on Monday and close the main highway in and out of the region.

"We want you to get out now," Mr Crisp said. "It is important that you now think very very seriously about leaving."

Temperatures are forecast to soar into the coming week, reaching 41 deg C in Lakes Entrance - a coastal town with pristine beaches and a large system of inland waterways.

In neighbouring New South Wales state, firefighters are trying to contain 85 blazes before weather conditions deteriorate.

The blazes, which are also affecting other states, have killed at least nine people since they began unusually early in September amid a prolonged drought gripping parts of the nation.

They have triggered an emotive debate about the impact of global warming in the world's driest-inhabited continent, and turned the spotlight on Prime Minister Scott Morrison's conservative government, which champions the coal industry and has dismissed calls to take more steps to curb emissions.

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