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Thousands trapped on beach as Australian bushfires rage

By
Clyde Hughes
An aerial view of a bushfire near Bairnsdale in Victoria's East Gippsland region, Australia on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of state government of Victoria/EPA-EFE
An aerial view of a bushfire near Bairnsdale in Victoria's East Gippsland region, Australia on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of state government of Victoria/EPA-EFE

Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Thousands of people were trapped on a beach in the latest round of Australian bushfires Tuesday as high temperatures and strong winds continue to fuel the flames.

About 4,000 evacuated to beaches at Mallacoota in southeastern Victoria on Tuesday morning to escape the fire. Three emergency teams set up medical centers and evacuation locations on the beach for residents, according to a Victoria state agency.

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Some families evacuated to their boats offshore while others tried to cool off in the sea. One vacationing woman, Ida Dempsey, said her family moved their boat about 656 feet offshore after leaving the area.

Victoria Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said officials are still evaluating property loss in the tourist East Gippsland region, which was ravaged by bushfires this weekend. Significant property damage was initially reported in the region popular among vacationers for its wildlife and hiking trails at nearby national parks.

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In the meantime, the government ordered a fleet of ships, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft from the Australian Defense Force to affected areas to rescue residents trapped by the fire and provide supplies.

Authorities said heavy-lifting helicopters will arrive in eastern Victoria New Year's Day while two Royal Australian Navy ships are being sent to affected regions with the capacity to evacuate hundreds of people.

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Patrick Salway, 63, and his son Robert, 29, died while trying to defend their home in Cobargo on the New South Wales South Coast on Monday night.

Authorities said a 72-year-old man in Belowra, about 31 miles northwest of Cobargo, remains missing.

Volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28, died Monday when his firetruck turned over in high winds near Jingellic at the NSW-Victoria border.

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McPaul became the third NSW firefighter to die in the past two weeks fighting the continued bushfires.

"Just heartbreaking," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on social media Monday about McPaul's death. "A brave firefighter has lost their life protecting the community east of Albury. Words fail at times like this."

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