17 now missing as as dozens of fires continue to burn
The number of people missing in Victoria's fires has increased to 17, with grave fears held for their safety.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the missing 17 are residents from smaller communities across East Gippsland.
"They may have been trying to defend their homes,'' he said.
"That number may grow or indeed people may report to authorities.
"We do hold very significant fears for the welfare of anybody who is missing at this time.''
It comes as beloved great-grandfather and town "larrikin" Mick Roberts, 67, was on Wednesday identified as the first victim of East Gippsland's bushfire tragedy.
Smoke is hampering relief efforts by air to get into Mallacoota, Mr Andrews said.
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville said 24 communities have been cut off, including Mallacoota.
Dozens of fires are still burning across Victoria as navy ships offer relief to the stricken East Gippsland town of Mallacoota.
Forty-seven fires are still actively burning, with more than 1000 firefighters working day and night to contain the blazes.
Ten Watch and Act warnings in place - six in East Gippsland, two in Victoria's northeast, and two in the alpine region.
A total of 325 fires started in the 24 hours prior to 2pm yesterday.
RELIEF FOR MALLACOOTA
Rescuers from two navy ships, HMAS Choules and MV Sycamore, have arrived in Mallacoota.
The ships are expected to deliver food, water, fuel and temporary shelters, and bring a medical team to residents stranded in the coastal town.
The ships are also expected to bring diesel to run generators, as many communities remain without power. They can also be used to evacuate people stranded by the fires.
HMAS Choules can also be used as a floating base for a fleet of Australian Defence Force helicopters, which is due to arrive into Sale any time.
MAN CHARGED OVER FIRE NEAR SARSFIELD
A 36-year-old homeless man has been arrested and charged after he allegedly started a small fire in bushland south of the hard-hit town of Sarsfield.
The suspect was arrested around 6.45pm last night in Johnsonville, 22km northeast of Lakes Entrance.
He has been charged with recklessly causing bushfire and drug-related offences, and will front Bairnsdale Magistrates' Court this morning.
A Watch and Act warning is active in Johnsonville and surrounds due to out-of-control fires north of Bairnsdale and in the Buchan Valley.
The alert was in place last night, when the fire was allegedly lit.
The township of Buchan which was ravaged by Monday's bushfires is still isolated and without power.
Mike Cooper is one of the few residents who have access to a working mobile phone.
The town has been without power or phone reception since Monday.
"Everyone from Buchan is stranded at the moment," he said. "It is mayhem. Buchan is obliterated."
A Facebook page has been set up for locals to communicate to loved ones. For some, it is the only way of telling their loved ones they are alive.
It comes as the first casualty of the fires was confirmed on Wednesday, after Mick Roberts, 67, was found dead inside his fire-ravaged home.
HIGHWAY OPENS BETWEEN ORBOST, LAKES ENTRANCE
The Princes Highway between Orbost and Lakes Entrance was today open but locals feared the freeway may soon be closed again.
With the bushfire only kilometres away, the stretch of road had limited visibility.
Thick smoke engulfed the roadway and forest both sides of the road.
Orbost residents were lining up at the bank to withdraw cash and filling up cars with petrol ahead of the upcoming onslaught of weather conditions.
A relief centre had been set up at the footy ground.
'FORGOTTEN' TOWN NEAR LAKES ENTRANCE
Sandra Huggins from the Nowa Nowa general store said her small township had been forgotten about.
"No one remembers Nowa Nowa," she said.
"We are in trouble. We've had no power, no reception, no radio, no newspapers since Monday.
"We have struggled. We are not feeling in the loop. We are the forgotten part of East Gippsland."
The Nowa Nowa general store was trading in cash and was even operating on an honesty system for customers who were caught short.
They had purchased a generator to keep the store going.
Ms Huggins said they were preparing for a "ring of fire" which may engulf Nowa Nowa on Saturday.
She and her family were tonight deciding if they would stay or go.
The nearby town of Wairewa, which shares a postcode with Nowa Nowa, is reported to have lost at least 10 homes.
CONVOY FLEES CORRYONG
Hundreds of people who escaped Corryong last night are sheltering in relief centres in neighbouring towns today.
Fire crews last night led a convoy of 122 cars out of Corryong amid fears the town will again come under severe fire threat in the coming days.