“Leave early and live”.
That is the stark message from Denis Napthine, the premier of Victoria state, for those whose homes are at risk from the bushfires raging in southern Australia.
Emergency services are battling the flames but the scale of the task they face can be overwhelming.
Tackling an out-of-control blaze in Eden Valley, 80
kilometres east of Adelaide, Brigade Captain John Richardson of South Australia’s fire service fought back tears.
“I’m upset because it started in our territory,” he said.
“We’re just hopeless. We just don’t know how to fight it.”
Extreme heat and high winds have fanned dozens of fires in some of the worst conditions since Australia’s Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people in 2009.
The states of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales have been hardest hit.
While many people have fled, others have stayed behind, hoping their property would be spared.
“We thought it was going to miss us,” said Max Green, in the town of Dadswell Bridge, 250 kilometres northwest of Melbourne.
“It went past us, and then, out of the blue, it turned around and came back over the top.”
Helped by fire crews, Green and his son, Luke, were able to save most of their property and only their fence fell victim to the fire.
The heatwave in Australia’s south and southeast has seen temperatures hit over 40 degrees Celsius.
So far, only one life has been lost to these bushfires but as people seek shelter, the risk is likely to rise with climate experts warning of longer, hotter spells to come.