“This is very different to that,” he warned.
“This will be an active fire and a very challenging and complex environment for weeks and therefore we have to do things differently.”
Mr Andrews said 90 firefighters isolated in Mallacoota would be choppered out on Wednesday evening and replaced with fresh teams in a “shift change by the air”.
“That’s not something we’ve done before and it’s one example of how complex and how challenging these East Gippsland fires are now,” he said.
Patchy communications and an active fireground made it difficult to account for the missing people.
“We simply haven’t got into a number of areas,” Mr Andrews said.
Thousands of people stranded in East Gippsland towns face an anxious wait with temperatures expected to soar again on Saturday. After a hot Friday, Mallacoota is facing a windy 43 on Saturday, with a late change.
Dylan Wissell said his stepfather, Mr Roberts, was a larger than life character around Buchan with a wide circle of friends and a large, adoring family.
“He was tough on the exterior but he had a heart of gold,” Mr Wissell said. “He was a good man. He was a bit of a rock to me, to be honest. He was always there if I needed a bit of a yack.”
Mr Wissell said he believed Mr Roberts had been painting his house with friends in the days leading up to the fires.
“I rang him on Sunday and left a voicemail about my concerns about the weather coming up and he left me a message later that day saying not to worry, that the tanks were full and [they were] pretty right for a firefighting set-up, but obviously he wasn’t as prepared as he would have hoped,” he said.
“As as far as I know, they decided to head to the river and I think there was one or two other guys with Mick and they ran to river. And Mick, for whatever reason, turned back to the hay shed at first and then to the house.
“The other guys went down to the river and huddled there thinking they were going to die. Next thing, Mick is missing.”
A naval ship, HMAS Choules, which is capable of carrying 700 people and can deliver water, food, fuel and medical supplies, is expected to be off the coast of Mallacoota by mid-morning on Thursday.
Is is unclear whether it will be used for evacuations.
However, five ADF helicopters, including two Black Hawks, will be used to conduct evacuations.
Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said authorities were considering evacuating Mallacoota residents by sea but said the ships arriving were not equipped to take thousands of people at once.
Ambulance Victoria’s acting director of emergency management, Justin Dunlop, said people in Mallacoota were being assessed to determine if anyone needed to be medically evacuated.
He said some paramedics were continuing to assist the community despite not knowing if their own homes had survived.
A second vessel, the MV Sycamore, which can carry a helicopter, is also expected to arrive off the coast of East Gippsland early on Thursday, a day earlier than originally expected.
The boats and helicopters were bringing tonnes of water and food supplies that will last two weeks.
Authorities said 24 structures had been destroyed in Buchan, 19 in Sarsfield, 10 in Mallacoota, up to 15 in Corryong and up to 15 in Cudgewa.
Mallacoota local Rachel Mounsey said a whole street and one half of another had been lost near her.
“Half of the street has gone in my street. There’s probably eight gone. Stanley Avenue is basically wiped out. A whole street gone,” Ms Mounsey said.
Musician Justin Brady was able to save his instruments – including a violin, harmonica and mandolin – but his home on Karbeethong Hill did not survive.
During the fire he took refuge for hours in a boat near a jetty where 50 people sheltered.
“It was apocalyptic,” he said. “I lost everything pretty much.”
Melburnian Bradyn Taglieri is one of 5000 people who were stranded in Mallacoota.
He said that after a “very long day” on Tuesday taking shelter at the boat ramp, fires were still burning around the town and the power was still out.
The local IGA supermarket remained open through the night with supplies.
“We all had to make masks out of our clothing and wear sunglasses as the smoke was too much for the eyes,” he said.
“I’m not overly stressed about [leaving]. My only concern is about getting back to work, but I’m sure the boss would understand,” Mr Taglieri said.
“Myself and a few others have out our hands up to go out and help clear some of the roads to speed the process up, but that’s all we can really do at the moment.”
The people of Cann River – in between Orbost and Mallacoota and with a population of about 200 – are low on food, water and fuel and also feel their little East Gippsland town is a low priority.
There was some good news for the town on Wednesday when the CFA downgraded the two out-of-control fires in the area from emergency status to “watch and act”.
But that hasn’t reduced concern among locals, many of whom spent the past two nights seeking refuge in the local school and who are feeling the pinch as their town is running low on supplies because the Princes Highway remains closed.
“We feel very left out,” Deb Taylor said. “The relief centre has only just got food available and it’s been going for a few days.”
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said grants of up to $1900 were available for those impacted by the fires.
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.
Zach is a reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul is a reporter for The Age.
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.