Forest fires devastate Southeast Australia, two more dead

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE: Forest fires burned dangerously out of control on the east coast this Saturday, fueled by high temperatures and high winds that caused firefighters to fight to save lives and property.

Authorities have said conditions could be worse than on New Year's Eve on Tuesday, when fires burned large areas of scrub and forced thousands of residents and vacationers to seek refuge on the beaches.

The government announced an unprecedented call for army reservists to support firefighters and other resources, including a third navy ship equipped for disasters and humanitarian aid.

Conditions begin to deteriorate rapidly in the fire fields of southern New South Wales, the Meteorology Office said in a tweet.

It is generating heat and wind, which is increasing fire activity.

In South Australia, two people died in Kangaroo Island, a popular vacation spot not far from the coast, which caused the number of national victims of fires this week to 12. Twenty-one people remain uncounted in Victoria, facing at 28 reported on Friday.

More than 130 fires burned in NSW on Saturday, many out of control, and in Victoria there were evacuation recommendations for six fires, emergency warnings for another 11 and dozens even more on fire.

There are a number of large and dangerous fires burning in NSW that pose a serious threat to life, said the Rural Fire Service (RFS) of NSW.

In Victoria, authorities had urged people in areas covered by a declaration of a state of disaster to evacuate, and said tens of thousands of the estimated population of 100,000 had gone to a safe place.

But there are still significant populations in those areas, said Graham Ashton, chief commissioner of Victoria's police. Those who stayed needed to continue monitoring emergency announcements and fire tracking applications, he said.

Highlights of what is happening in Australia:

* The first of thousands of residents and vacationers stranded on a beach in Mallacoota, in southeastern Australia, landed near Melbourne Saturday morning after a 20-hour boat trip. A much larger ship, with approximately 1,000 people, will arrive on Saturday afternoon. * In parts of the Snowy Mountain region in New South Wales, the remaining residents were told they were at risk.

The window of opportunity to leave has now closed. It's too late to leave, the RFS said in a fire warning bulletin. Seek shelter as the fire approaches. Protect yourself from the heat of fire.

* A change of south wind at the end of Saturday, which is expected for Saturday, will drastically reduce temperatures, but also bring gusts of wind from 70-80 km/h (43-50 mph) in coastal areas where some of The most dangerous fires.

* The Prime Minister of South Australia, Steven Marshall, said that more than 100,000 hectares of Kangaroo Island, about a quarter of its total area, had been burned, but that the weather conditions have now improved.

* Saturday's approach is to prevent further loss of life, authorities said. National parks have been closed and people strongly urged earlier this week to evacuate large parts of the south coast of New South Wales and the northeast regions of Victoria, magnets for tourists at the peak of summer school vacations from Australia.

* The death toll in the current fire season, which began in September, is 23, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

* Morrison confirmed that his visit to India and Japan scheduled for mid-January had been postponed due to the fires.

* More than 5 million hectares (13 million acres) of land have been burned.

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