A BUSHFIRE burning out of control in Gippsland has left one man dead, destroyed homes and burnt thousands of hectares of farmland.
Firefighters said the conditions were ''as bad as it can get'' and feared it could take weeks to contain the fire, which has burnt more than 48,000 hectares.
Police confirmed a man died in a burning vehicle in Seaton, 200 kilometres east of Melbourne, about 5pm on Friday. The body is yet to be identified.
News of the death - Victoria's first of the fire season - came as residents and fire crews in the hamlet of Licola braced themselves for the approaching fire front.
Sudge Saya, a co-ordinator at Licola Wilderness Village, said: ''It's pretty dark and all we can see is the smoke.''
Ms Saya said the road was blocked, preventing people leaving, so they would stay and defend properties.
''There are 28 on the strike team, and there are 11 of us in the town that work at the camp and the general store and there are a few locals over at the CFA shed,'' she said.
''We've got our fire plan in place and we are confident we are pretty safe here.''
At least five houses were destroyed by the bushfire, which started near Aberfeldy on Thursday night.
Heyfield incident controller Bill Johnstone said the fire could continue for days or even weeks.
''We're still experiencing some dynamic fire behaviour. The conditions are deteriorating,'' Mr Johnstone said.
''It's a very dangerous environment we're experiencing … it's probably as bad as it can get.''
The fire had swept to within 10 kilometres of Licola, while Seaton, Glenmaggie and Dawson suffered property losses.
A wind change during the morning pushed the fire north-east and more than tripled its size. The wind change kept the fire away from the larger town of Heyfield, but four houses were lost in Seaton and Glenmaggie, and one house was destroyed at Dawson.
Peetika Hobson, who has lived in Seaton for 30 years, said her house had been lost.
''As we were driving back to Heyfield hoping to see if the house was still there, we got a text message from our son that he heard our house had burned down,'' she told Network Ten.
''It becomes quite sad thinking about what you've missed.
''You'll never go home again to the house where your family grew up.''
In Old Joes Road, south of Glenmaggie, several sheds were lost but all houses appeared to have been saved.
Leongatha CFA captain Tristan Morgan-Pederson kept raging flames at bay from a two-storey brick house that had been evacuated by its owners.
The fence and sheds were destroyed, but the house, greenhouses and a chicken coop were saved.
''It came up that hill at a rate of knots, and it's just hit these sheds. Then the old air crane came along and gave us a drop, which was nice,'' Mr Morgan-Pederson said.
A burnt house in Seaton was a mess of brick and roof sheeting, while the sheds of other houses around it had been destroyed.
Another house between Seaton and Dawson was also destroyed, a trampoline in the yard one of few items not burnt.
A farmhouse about five kilometres north-west of Glenmaggie was also flattened by the fire, which left blackened paddocks as far as the eye could see standing on the hill outside the property.
Firefighters at the scene did not know if the owners had evacuated the property before the fire hit, or had to abandon it as the flames bore down.
A neighbour of former Essendon football captain Tim Watson said the fire ''was at the back door'' of Watson's property, just down the road from the house that was burnt to the ground.
The recently built property had been built to withstand bushfire and had escaped, the neighbour said.
Watson said it was a ''huge relief'' that his property was spared.
''It's gut-wrenching to hear about the loss of life down there,'' he said on Seven News.
A CFA volunteer fighting the fire on the Heyfield-Seaton Road said the flames had destroyed valuable farmland in the region.
Richard Dennis, speaking as a hayshed smouldered behind him, said he thought most houses had been saved, but he was gravely concerned about the impact of the wind change.
''We woke up at 2.30[am] and she was on our doorstop,'' Mr Dennis said.
''At Seaton and Dawson, we managed to save most of the houses, but only just.''
Further east, Lake Glenmaggie was covered in thick smoke, the eastern bank unable to be seen from the west.
Glenmaggie Caravan Park proprietor Glen Coles said the two southernmost parks he owned appeared to be safe, but he had lost at least one caravan in his park to the north.
About 100 campers had evacuated from about 2am on Friday, with some regular campers staying back to lend a hand.
''I know the park up there has been impacted, but I don't know what's survived,'' Mr Coles said. ''I can't get there. There's a few houses close to it, but I've got no clue about what houses are gone.''
He said campers had received SMS warnings, and commended the CFA and DSE for their help in protecting the parks.
In Heyfield, Premier Ted Baillieu said he had heard positive responses about warnings and information to residents as the fire raised fears.
''This fire has a long way to go and I know the agencies and the volunteers will be doing whatever they possibly can,'' Mr Baillieu said.
In New South Wales, as temperatures in Sydney exceeded 45 degrees, two houses were lost at Bega as 12 fires burnt out of control across the state.
BENJAMIN PREISS, VINCE CHADWICK and AAP