Fireworks light Sydney's night sky to ring in 2020 as bushfires rage across the country
31 December 2019, 13:03 | Updated: 31 December 2019, 13:08
Australia has rung in the new decade with a dazzling fireworks display in Sydney Harbour.
As the clock struck midnight, the first part of the country entered 2020 to much celebration by the gathered crowd.
There had been much speculation that the annual fireworks would be cancelled due to the ongoing bushfire crisis in New South Wales (NSW) which has caused thousands of families to be evacuated from their homes as the flames rage around them.
The NSW Rural Fire Services granted organisers an exemption from a total fire ban which blankets the region for the event to go ahead.
Some had urged the organisers to call off the display and donate the money to the fire service, and a petition called for the fireworks to be cancelled because it sent the wrong message reached 270,000 signatures.
About 12.35 million acres of land have burned nationwide during the wildfire crisis, with 12 people confirmed dead and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.
NSW - where Sydney is located - is the worst affected state in the country.
In the Victoria coastal town of Mallacoota, the sky turned an eerie blood-red and residents were forced to flee to the safety of the ocean.
Another 4,000 people were forced to take shelter on the beach in the holiday town in the East Gippsland district along the Pacific coast.
Another 4,000 more people were sheltering in community centres in the town.
The crew from Fire and Rescue NSW Station 509 Wyoming recorded this video showing the moment their truck was overrun by the bushfire burning South of Nowra. The crew was forced to shelter in their truck as the fire front passed through. #NSWFires #ProtectTheIrreplaceable pic.twitter.com/Hb0yVrefi9— Fire and Rescue NSW (@FRNSW) December 31, 2019
Residents in Mallacoota posted on social media about hearing the roar of the fire, circulating photos showing how, in the words of some, the smoke had turned "the day into night".
Four people were missing in the area, where more than half a million acres of forest have been burnt out and where the intense heat and smoke from fires has been creating localised storm systems.
"Mallacoota is currently under attack," Victoria's state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Tuesday.
"It is pitch-black, it is quite scary... the community right now is under threat but we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected."
Emergency services officials said it was possible towns in the Gippsland area could be evacuated by sea as the fires, fanned by strong winds, continued.
The out-of-control fire reached the town in the morning and about 4,000 people fled to the coastline, with Country Fire Authority members working to protect them.
The town had not been told to evacuate on Sunday when the rest of East Gippsland was, and authorities decided it was too dangerous to move them on Monday.
People reported hearing BBQ gas bottles explode as the fire reached the town, and the sound of sirens telling people to get in the water.
Meanwhile, officials confirmed another two people had died in blazes in New South Wales.
With officials confirming the death toll from more than three months of wildfires in multiple states now stands at 12.
Police said a father and son died in the early hours of Tuesday defending their home in Cobargo, near the coast in the state of New South Wales (NSW), 280 miles south of Sydney.
The town was hit by one out-of-control fire which roared into the community in the middle of the night, with its main street bearing the impact.