A glowing red sky over a Victorian coastal holiday town turned black as locals and holidaymakers scrambled to the water's edge to survive a raging bushfire.
The community of Mallacoota, in the state's far east, had been preparing for the summer tourist season when fires edged closer to their homes and businesses on December 30.
Fire authorities told locals to get out, or be prepared to fight, as a blaze charged ahead.
By Monday evening, temperatures soared and the fires in the East Gippsland region started creating their own weather system with about 1000 firefighters working on the blazes.
Seven emergency warnings, the highest alert level, were in place across East Gippsland and another for the fire straddling the northeast Victoria-NSW border.
A cool change swept through the region after extreme heat on December 30 but windy conditions remained, fuelling the fires and spreading ash.
Fire was heading straight towards Mallacoota.
Steve Jakovljevic, who co-owns the local IGA store, said there had been "apocalyptic scenes".
"It was New Year's Eve, people were supposed to be happy. And then this happened," Mr Jakovljevic told AAP.
"(The) wind kicked up and there was rolling embers down the main street."
Thousands of people went to the water's edge to shelter after blazes grew rapidly overnight due to winds and lightning strikes.
Three strike teams were on hand to look after the 4000 people on the beach.
"It was pitch black up until two minutes ago and now half the sky is red, embers are dropping out of the sky," Mallacoota resident Mark told ABC about 10am on December 31.
A cheer erupted at the beach when news the major fire front had passed came through.
More than 200,000 hectares in Victoria's East Gippsland were scorched by the early morning. It was just the start - now more than 1.3 million hectares has been burnt statewide.
The fire that drove people to the beach was about 100,000 hectares in size, and destroyed 10 structures in Mallacoota.
More than 1500 people were evacuated by the Australian Defence Force, making it Australia's largest peacetime humanitarian rescue mission since Cyclone Tracy.
The first Mallacoota evacuees landed at a Victorian port on January 4 after a near 20-hour voyage, before being shifted to evacuation centres.
Princes Highway was closed to the public after the defence force cleared burning trees and fallen limbs.
The state government has created a bushfire response taskforce to avoid "red tape" in dealing with the fallout from the blazes, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison will take a royal commission into the bushfire crisis to Cabinet.
Millions of dollars have been raised for those impacted in the bushfires across the country and campaigns to support local businesses have cropped up.
The defence force is still bringing in essential supplies to the isolated community of Mallacoota, including fuel and a much-needed supply of beer to the local watering hole.
The smoke is yet to clear as those left behind or still to return, start to recover.
Australian Associated Press