Narelle Benstead from the hamlet of Germantown’s told Australian Associated Press: “We’re getting prepared to defend our home and watching the fire over the hill. We’ve got our buckets and our hoses and we’re all organised to stay and defend.”
Steve Bracks, Victoria’s premier, has compared the bushfires to the “Black Friday” catastrophe of 1939 in which 71 people died although there have yet to be any reported fatalities.
More than 3,000 firefighters are involved in the operations to tackle the fires, including volunteer civilian fire crews and military personnel.
The fires have burned more than 200,000 hectares of land and have left a pall of smoke over Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city.
The smoke cloud has delayed air traffic at the city’s airport and medics have warned people with respiratory problems to stay indoors.
An ambulance official said: “The conditions for today with all the smoke in the atmosphere are absolutely terrible for people with asthma.
“It is imperative that they stay inside.”
Aircraft that have been modified to dump water on the fires were grounded on Saturday because of the smoke.
John Howard, Australia’s prime minister, said the federal government was ready to provide additional support to help the efforts in Victoria.
He told ABC television: “Our thoughts are very much with those 3,000 firefighters.”
Bushfires are a regular occurrence during Australia’s summer months. In January 2005, the deadliest bushfires in 22 years killed nine people in south Australia.
Scientists expect climate change will bring higher temperatures more frequent and reduce rainfall.