Australia’s “columns of fire” force mass evacuation, claim ninth life

The sky glows red as bushfires continue to rage in Mallacoota, Victoria, Australia, December 31, 2019, in this photo obtained from social media. Jonty Smith from Melbourne/via REUTERS

A volunteer firefighter was killed battling Australian bushfires on Monday as “columns” of flames generating their own dangerous weather systems bore down on a tourist region, prompting the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

The firefighter, and two others who suffered burns, were working on a fire about 70 km (45 miles) east of Albury in New South Wales (NSW) when, it is believed, their truck rolled after being hit by strong winds, authorities said on Twitter.

The incident took the death toll from the country’s raging bushfires to nine and added pressure on authorities to reconsider New Year celebration plans for the city of Sydney.

Meanwhile thousands of tourists and residents in an Australian seaside town hunkered down in public buildings or waded into water at the seafront on Tuesday as wailing emergency sirens warned of a looming, fierce firefront.

With the coastal town of Mallacoota ringed by wildfires and the main road in and out of town cut off, residents and holidaymakers were forced to head to the local gymnasium or waterfront as embers swept through the town.