Thousands of Queenslanders were being evacuated from their homes in northeast Australia late yesterday, as bushfires raged across the state amid a scorching heatwave.
Some 8000 residents were urged to leave the town of Gracemere, south of the central coast area of Rockhampton, as a fast-moving blaze threatened homes.
About 1500 people fled the monster blaze in the Deepwater region that has already razed at least four homes and scorched tens of thousands of hectares of bush and farmland.
A third dangerous fire threatened Mount Larcom in the afternoon, prompting more evacuations. One resident, Rhonda Anderson, rode her horse 30km to Gladstone as a wall of smoke dwarfed the small town, AAP reports.
The Bureau of Meteorology declared a "catastrophic" fire danger — the highest possible risk rating — in some central areas, while firefighters battle to contain more than 140 blazes across the state.
"This is a very stressful situation for families. I need you to all be strong. I need you to all listen. Your family and the protection of our community is vital," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned those told to leave.
"So we need to reach out to community members who are frail, who are elderly, who have a disability. Please listen to authorities, it is going to get a lot worse," she added.
Firefighters have also been fighting blazes in Baffle Creek, Rules Beach and Oyster Creek, Eungella and Dalrymple Heights, where people were ordered to evacuate before fires cut the road.
Most people made it out by road but some had to be ferried over Baffle Creek. Deputy Police Commissioner Bob Gee warned residents that the conditions were so dangerous people could die if they refused to leave.
"People will burn to death. Their normal approaches probably won't work if this situation develops the way it is predicted to develop," he said. "It is no different to a Category 5 cyclone coming through your door."
By Wednesday night temperatures had eased slightly and winds had dropped, but authorities warned the state was still in the grip of heatwave and severe fire conditions.
Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Katarina Carroll said conditions in the Central Queensland area were still dire.
"Obviously whilst it might ease we still have grave concerns throughout the night so we are not through this yet."
Crews from South Australia are expected to arrive today, with more from around Australia to arrive later in the week.
"We are not out of the woods, There is a big fire risk across the state," Palaszczuk said, warning the extreme heatwave would continue until Tuesday.
The worst of the conditions in central Queensland are so destructive they have been compared to those that fanned the infernos that recently devastated California.
The Bureau of Meteorology said scorching temperatures had broken records across Queensland, with the state capital Brisbane reaching 37.9 degrees Celsius.
At least 34 schools will remain closed today due to nearby fires, and authorities said the number of homes destroyed was likely in "single digits" but it was too early to confirm.
"We will see more fires flare up very very quickly, so this is the start of it," Ms Carroll warned those evacuating.
"It is very difficult to get a sense of how long people have in the area because the winds are picking up faster than what was expected — so evolving, but very, very quickly," she added.
Member for Gladstone Glenn Butcher told the ABC that police earlier "arrested" several people refusing to leave the path of bushfires in Baffle Creek, about 120km south of Gladstone.
"You do feel for them, but at the end of the day the price of a small house or a shed compared to your life … at the end of the day, human life is top priority."
Butcher said at least 12 people were known to still be in the area, adding some residents refusing to leave the evacuation zone were parents who also had children with them.
Resident Luana Royle from the central Queensland town of Finch Hatton told the ABC that the area had been hit hard by the blaze.
"Our fires around here, you couldn't even see 500 metres in front of you this morning," she said.
"Everyone is OK, but two houses have went, which is pretty sad."
Australia is no stranger to extreme weather, experiencing flash floods, sandstorms and even extreme drought in areas that are now being inundated.
On Wednesday in New South Wales, three people were killed when Sydney was hit by severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall.
The local Bureau of Meteorology reported more than 106 millimetres of rain in some places within a few hours.
Flights were cancelled, railway lines closed and motorists stranded on flooded roads, as a month's worth of rain fell there early Wednesday morning.
- with wires