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Australian navy rescues bushfire evacuees as conditions worsen

Australian navy rescues bushfire evacuees as conditions worsen
Evacuees from Mallacoota are transported on a landing craft to a ship at sea on Friday during bushfire relief efforts. Photo coutesy of LSIS Shane Cameron/Royal Australian Navy/EPA-EFE

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- An Australian navy ship on Friday started to evacuate some 900 people trapped off the Victoria coastline by wild bushfires. The blazes are expected to continue through the weekend as temperatures continue to hover at record highs.

Many of those rescued were vacationing when bushfires reached Mallacoota, cutting off escape routes via road and forcing those who waited too late to head toward the beaches. Helicopters ferried some passengers who could not get on the ship by a rope ladder.

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Victoria officials declared a disaster Thursday, which opened up evacuation locations on the eastern coast. More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in the fires that have scorched 15 million acres.

"If you can leave, you must leave," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Friday. "We cannot guarantee your safety."

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Authorities established a leave zone for Batemans Bay down to the South Coast. Another had been put in place for Nowra down to Ulladulla.

On Thursday, New South Wales declared an emergency and evacuation of the southeastern region, called by one official the largest exodus in the region's history.

Nine people have died this week, bringing the official total to 18 this fire season with numerous others remaining unaccounted for.

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Forecasters are predicting a new round of extreme weather this weekend that could spark more bushfires. Temperatures are expected to climb to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in several areas, creating conditions for more fires to erupt with the addition of strong winds.

"It's going to be a blast furnace," Australian Transport Minister Andrew Constance said.

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