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Thousands told to jump into the ocean as Australia’s raging fires approached

The sun didn’t rise on New Year’s Eve. The summer morning in a small beach town on the east coast of Australia looked like a winter’s night.

That black sky soon gave way to a blazing, eerie orange as the flames approached. At least 4,000 people were told to jump into the ocean. Gas cylinders could be heard popping like fireworks as they exploded.

The town of Mallacoota looked apocalyptic on Tuesday local time as it became the latest victim of Australia’s out-of-control bushfires.

It was too late to evacuate.

“We are one road in, one road out. That road’s been blocked for hours and hours and hours,” Francesca Winterson from Mallacoota Community Radio told News Breakfast, a national TV broadcast.

“[T]he emergency services sounded their sirens all around town, telling people that’s it, get into your safe place.”

Mallacoota has over 1,000 residents, and is also a popular camping destination during the Christmas and New Year holidays, leading to a surge in population.

“At that point, I was praying. I was an atheist. I was praying to God, praying to Jesus, turn the wind,” David Geoffrey, owner of Mallacoota’s Wave Oasis bed and breakfast, told Australia’s ABC News.

Strong winds, lack of rain, and a historical heatwave have exacerbated Australia’s bushfire crisis, spreading the fires with incredible speed. At least nine people have died so far, including three volunteer firefighters. Over 11 million acres have burned, with approximately 900 homes destroyed in the state of New South Wales alone. Escape routes have been blocked, towns engulfed.

“[T]hey wanted us to get into the water, get against that [rock] wall,” Geoffrey said. “It’s got oysters and stuff, not the greatest thing to do but it will save you from radiant heat, it’s a barrier. So we were ready to jump in. And everyone was all along the edge, ready to go.”

Scenes from Mallacoota beach this morning at 7:30am as my friend shelters from the fires #Mallacootapic.twitter.com/VVNEZJK5v0

— sᴉɹɹǝℲ ǝllǝɥɔoɹ (@Turtle_Shell_Oz) December 30, 2019

The darkness in #Mallacoota is utterly surreal. Not far off pitch black when this should be a beautiful sunny morning. pic.twitter.com/1tY1i4PZfi

— Brendan (@brendanh_au) December 30, 2019

“It was pitch black until about five minutes ago, now the sky is red,” resident Mark Tregellas told ABC Gippsland just before 10 a.m. “It’s starting to get embers coming out of the sky, the wind is coming directly at us from the west so everyone’s about as prepped and ready as they can be.”

My niece’s photo of Mallacoota; she’s found refuge on a houseboat, thank goodness. I hope everyone has a safe place today🤞#vicfires#gippslandfirespic.twitter.com/GUsKnFvbRM

— Vicki Ward MP 🌈 (@VickiWardMP) December 30, 2019

This picture just in from family boarding boat in #Mallacoota#MallacootaFires approx time of photo 9:45am pic.twitter.com/WJEQScDp9f

— Bradley Deacon 🇦🇺 (@BradleyWDeacon) December 30, 2019

Sister in a BRIGHT ORANGE work suit blending in with the #Mallacoota sky pic.twitter.com/SfK93GhbUU

— Brendan (@brendanh_au) December 30, 2019

CFA pump ready to fill firefighting trucks at the #Mallacoota boat ramp #vicfirespic.twitter.com/mBAUUaNo86

— Simon (@swarve) December 30, 2019

10:30am update from Dad at the wharf in Mallacoota – “fire front not far away” #Mallacoota#bushfirecrisispic.twitter.com/MvgeiZqujM

— bluesfestblues (@bluesfestblues) December 30, 2019

How bad are the #AustralianFires? Absolutey fucked.

video;cubin’ on fb #mallacoota

pic.twitter.com/cDKjjK2m7U

— rbm (@doc_ryan) December 31, 2019

#Mallacoota sky has lightened up to a pale orange now. Some smoke blown away by strong cool wind. Somewhat perplexing that we’re hearing of so much damage around town but haven’t seen the actual fire front ourselves. Then again, there are reasons we picked this place to defend pic.twitter.com/X4VJBvhpKv

— Brendan (@brendanh_au) December 31, 2019

11:25am update from Dad at the wharf in Mallacoota “I think its here. Both the bowling club & the golf club are gone. Gas cylinders exploding. Some houses are gone. Highly likely that my house has gone.” #Mallacoota#bushfirecrisis

— bluesfestblues (@bluesfestblues) December 31, 2019

Matt Manning is on a boat 3km from #Mallacoota. There are four people and a dog on board. These photos are from early this morning. pic.twitter.com/HNUviZqqTd

— Helen Davidson (@heldavidson) December 31, 2019

This is the situation in Mallacoota at the moment. A mother and her kids are sheltering in their boat on the water. People are reporting the sound of gas bottles exploding in town and quite a few homes have been burnt. @abcmelbourne#gippsnews#gippslandfirespic.twitter.com/XhS5SVvgqX

— Nicole Asher (@Nic_Asher) December 31, 2019

Australia’s bushfires have been burning since July and are expected to continue for months, with below-average rainfall predicted until at least March.

Many Australians blame this disastrous fire season on climate change. Hot, dry conditions across the country have turned Australia’s bushland into easy kindling, the country’s average temperature climbing to a record-breaking high this year.

“[There’s a direct link] because what climate change does is exacerbate the conditions in which the bushfires happen,” Australian National University’s Dr. Imran Ahmed told the BBC.

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