AT LEAST 80 homes have been lost and one man is feared killed by a bushfire that swept down onto the eastern Tasmanian town of Dunalley in catastrophic conditions.
The bushfire sent hundreds fleeing and was on Friday night still burning down the Tasman Peninsula, taking more properties as it went.
The man, a local resident, was last seen by a fire crew attempting to save his house as they were forced to shelter in their vehicle when the fire burnt over them, acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard said.
Police crews were last night checking through the smouldering town, which is believed to have lost about 65 properties, including shops and the local primary school.
A few kilometres away at the beachside town of Boomer Bay, another 15 properties were gone, Mr Tilyard said.
Many people were forced to shelter on beaches and in shallow water, with some evacuated by small boat owners and the police.
Weather changes overnight will put more communities in the line of bushfire, the state’s fire authorities says.
Winds gusting to 100km/h whipped up the two largest blazes that had started on Thursday: at Forcett, near Dunalley in the state’s south, and Lake Repulse near Mt Field National Park, north-west of Hobart.
A Tasmania Fire Service incident management team spokeswoman said a predicted weather change would affect the Lawrenny and Hamilton communities to the east of the Derwent River.
The communities are expected to be directly impacted by about 6am Saturday by embers, spotfires and potentially a fire front.
Meanwhile, winds are pushing the other large bushfire at Forcett, in an easterly direction, affecting the communities of Bream Creek, Copping and Boomer Bay.
‘‘They’ve been asked to go to their nearby safer place which has been identified as the Falls Festival site at Marion Bay, only if the path is clear, though,’’ the spokeswoman said.
‘‘It’s severely impacted on Dunalley already. You can imagine that the same thing could possibly happen in other communities. We don’t want to underestimate this fire.’’
Tasmania suffered its most severe fire day in years, with a record 41.8 degrees in Hobart and higher temperatures observed ahead of the fire front in Dunalley.
Tasmania's chief fire officer, Mike Brown, said the conditions had reached the catastrophic level several times during the afternoon and 100 crews were working on about 25 fires.
The Dunalley fire began on Thursday in bushland about 20 kilometres to the north-west of the town and swept out of containment lines on Friday afternoon fanned by strong winds.
It was burning to the sea at several points and also had taken properties at Connolly's Marsh and Murdunna, local reports said.
Acting Premier Bryan Green said the state government was preparing emergency accommodation, with a report that 600 people were sheltering at one refuge site.
''This has been an extraordinary day,'' Mr Green said.
He said around 50 people were awaiting the arrival of police boats to help them leave the waterfront near the top of the Tasman Peninsula where they had taken refuge.
The Tasman Peninsula, including the popular Port Arthur tourist destination, was completely cut off by the closure of the major Arthur Highway.
About 600 people were taking refuge at temporary accommodation at Nubeena and 1500 people were reported to have visited the Port Arthur convict ruins on Friday.
''Those people are being looked after as best we can,'' Mr Tilyard said.
''The main thing is they are safe.''
People had also been told to leave the beachside town of Dodges Ferry.
Fire crews were monitoring potential spot fires further south at Eaglehawk Neck and banking on a southerly change due late on Friday night to stop the fire from spreading.
Huge plumes of smoke were visible from Hobart as the island capital sweltered.
Mr Brown said conditions on Friday had reached the catastrophic level in the rating system that was developed after the Black Saturday fires in Victoria.
A grass fire at Epping in the state's north had been contained, but reports had emerged of a property being lost near Bicheno on the east coast.
Authorities say smoke is likely to be visible for several hours and people sensitive to it should stay indoors.