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(Australian Associated Press)
Thousands of Australians have fled their homes as scorching temperatures fan catastrophic bushfires across southern parts of the country.
For those who stayed behind, authorities fear it is now too late to leave parts of Victoria as firefighters brace for blistering winds to batter the parched countryside.
A cool change is expected to sweep the southern states on Monday afternoon with strong and shifting winds heightening the risk of bushfires spreading.
Victoria is bracing for the potentially ferocious wind change to bring gusts up to 120km/h, the weather bureau has warned.
The dangerous wind shift will create damaging conditions and remain a risk across eastern parts of Victoria into Tuesday morning.
A total fire ban is in place across the state, and six emergency warnings have been issued in the East Gippsland region.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said it was a “high-risk day” in Victoria and those still in left Lakes Entrance may now be stuck there.
“It is a day we don’t often see,” Mr Crisp told the ABC.
“If you’re not out by 9am there is every chance you won’t be able to leave.”
In South Australia, fires continue to burn on Kangaroo Island and a catastrophic danger has been declared for the Adelaide Metropolitan, Yorke Peninsula, Mount Lofty Ranges the state’s Mid North.
Adelaide is forecast to reach 40C and firefighters are particularly worried about the potential for breakouts in the blaze burning in the Adelaide Hills.
Severe thunderstorm warnings have also been issued for parts of the South Australian coast, adding to the risk of bushfires from lightning strikes.
In NSW, more than 900 homes have been destroyed but that number is expected to increase with rising temperatures and dry winds forecast to peak on New Year’s Eve.
Temperatures are forecast to climb past 40C in western Sydney and parts of regional NSW by Tuesday, as air pollution in the city’s southwest remains at a hazardous level.
A watch and act alert is in place for two fires in remote parts of Western Australia, at the Stirling Range National Park and Higginsville mine site in the state’s south.
In Tasmania, residents are urged to remain on high alert as scorching temperatures combined with forecast thunderstorms and winds increase fire risk.