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Mass exodus out of East Gippsland as locals and tourists heed warning

Their presence in the midst of the evacuation made it almost resemble a war zone.

Rivendell evacuee Josh Thomas spent days battling grass fires after his farm cottage resort came under ember attack, sparked by nearby blazes burning out of control at the neighbouring towns of Sarsfield and Mossiface.

The blood-red sun rises over Moe on Friday.

The blood-red sun rises over Moe on Friday. Credit:Joe Armao

“We put 16 years into creating a beautiful farm escape so it was tough to leave,” he said. “We are sort of surrounded by the fires, they’re coming from a few different directions.”

As the sun rose on Friday morning an eerie orange glow illuminated the sky.

Mr Thomas said he made the decision to flee to the Mornington Peninsula with his partner Saskia Colberg.

“I have never seen the threat of fire this bad,” he said. “We decided it wasn’t worth risking our lives.”

Josh Thomas and Saskia Colberg leaving their home on Friday.

Josh Thomas and Saskia Colberg leaving their home on Friday.Credit:Joe Armao

The 38-year-old filled the gutters of their Rivendell Farm Cottages in Tambo Upper with water, cut back grass and trees and removed debris before packing 1974 Holden Sandman with his surfboard and dogs Aiofe and Arwen.

“It’s peak season and we’ve lost an abundance of business for the next few weeks,” he said. “We’ve cancelled all our bookings for at least the next fortnight.”

Not all locals are fleeing, however, with Mr Thomas’ parents two of many local residents who are staying in the blaze threatened community of Rivendell with a caravan and water pump ready to fight the fires.

Grandfather-of-six and Eastwood local Mick Goodwin was one of hundreds flooding to petrol stations to fill up with lines of vehicles snaking out onto the roads.

Many had driven down from the fishing town of Metung, Lakes Entrance or further east from Orbost in the Snowy Mountains.

“These fires have a mind of their own, there is no of way of knowing what they’ll do,” Mr Goodwin said as he filled up his 1977 pick-up truck.

“We surrounded by water so I reckon we might have been right but the old bride, my wife, wanted to head out to Bairnsdale so we’re staying with my daughter here.”

The 77-year-old said some locals were having difficulty breathing due to the relentless bushfire smoke filling the air.

“It’s getting worse, it’s hard to breath, it feels never-ending,” he said.

“I am really worried about all the elderly people and those living alone in remote towns.

“I’m OK because I’ve got my family, it’s the people on their own who worry me.”

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