People in the path of fierce bushfires in Australia have been told to shelter indoors because it is too late to evacuate.
About 30,000 holidaymakers were urged to leave East Gippsland – a tourist hotspot in Victoria – but the local mayor said many people had ignored the plea and there was “no mass exodus”.
Now, the Princes Highway – the main road in and out of the area – has been shut.
Those left are being warned to shelter in place and not attempt the 200-mile journey out because they risk getting trapped by fires on the closed road.
Sky News Australia reporter Andrea Crothers said she had witnessed some people rowing with police because they were not allowed through.
The MP for East Gippsland, Tim Bull, told Sky News that 11 areas were under “extreme danger level”.
He said: “We’re expecting a cool change at 1am, which while it will provides some respite to some communities will put others in the firing line, so it’s very much a catch-22 situation.”
Officials said the state of Victoria had seen a “challenging day”.
Temperatures peaked at 41C (106F) in Melbourne, with areas southwest of the city reaching 44C (111F).
Another 16 fires were started by lightning overnight, bringing the total to 97, with 43 of those not contained.
It comes as a volunteer firefighter was killed and two others burned when their truck rolled over in strong winds 45 miles (70km) east of Albury in New South Wales (NSW).
Australian media reported that every state in the country had recorded a temperature higher than 40C (104F).
In Victoria, emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said Monday was “a day we do not often see”.
“Our state is dry, it is going to be very hot, it is going to be very windy,” he said.
“People get out now, if you don’t, you’ve got to stay across the conditions and listen to those warnings during the day.”
The scorching weather is rapidly heading into New South Wales, where temperatures are expected to spike on New Year’s Eve as hundreds of thousands gather in Sydney harbour.
The city has been smothered by smoke for weeks, and across the state almost 900 homes have been destroyed and 3.6 million hectares of land burnt.
Fires surrounding Greater Sydney: This map displays the predicted fire spread for NYE. The map indicates the communities that are expected to come under threat from embers or fire fronts. Other areas surrounding the fire may still come under threat if conditions change #NSWRFS pic.twitter.com/cDDvL6S8dS
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 30, 2019
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: “We’ve got some deteriorating weather conditions over the coming days, particularly Monday and worsening through to Tuesday.”
There were fears that Sydney’s famous fireworks would be cancelled, but the show will now go ahead after organisers were given an exemption from the fire ban.
Some politicians have called for the spectacle to be called off, saying “the risk is too high”.
Temperatures have also soared in Tasmania, Australia’s island state and its closest point to the South Pole.
It hit 40.8C (105.4F) in the capital Hobart on Monday – more than double the summer average and hotter than Australia’s tropical north.
Meanwhile, the federal government has said it will compensate volunteer firefighters in New South Wales.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said payments of up to AUS$6,000 (£3,200) would be available for eligible firefighters who had spent more than 10 days in the field.
He added: “As this is a very prolonged fire season, this is putting additional demands on our firefighters.
“It means that the turnouts and the callouts have been far more extensive than in previous years, going well and beyond and above what is normally expected of those who are engaged in volunteer service.”
Mr Morrison had previously said compensation for volunteers was not a priority, but he has faced increasing political pressure.
He also announced government workers could get additional paid leave for volunteering on Tuesday.
While there are different rules across Australia’s states, volunteers tend to negotiate time off directly with their employer.