Fire bans imposed as Australia prepares for worst


Total fire bans were being enforced in Australia’s two most populous states yesterday as high temperatures brought the return of severe conditions and threatened another fraught weekend for residents of many affected areas and for emergency services.

Temperatures in Sydney, which reached 42.3 degrees earlier this week, are forecast to soar to 39 degrees today after hitting 29 degrees yesterday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. National capital Canberra is expected to hit a maximum of 37 degrees today.

Firefighters in New South Wales and Victoria states received a reprieve yesterday when cooler temperatures gave them a chance to contain wildfires that spread in searing heat earlier this week.

Hottest day

The continent registered a national average of 40.33 degrees on January 7th, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records. In New South Wales, more than 80 fires are still burning, according to emergency services.

Livestock losses are estimated at more than 21,000, mostly sheep, at the cost of $2.5 million (€2 million) to $3 million.

Australia’s hot, dry climate makes bushfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer. The worst fires in the nation’s history, the so-called Black Saturday blazes, killed 173 people as they swept through rural Victoria in February 2009.

As authorities battle fires in New South Wales and Victoria, the impending weather pattern appears to be less threatening than earlier this week. “Winds are not expected to be as strong as last Tuesday’s,” said Julie Evans, a senior meteorologist at the bureau.

Records broken

Records, though, continue to be broken, with Leonora in central Western Australia yesterday posting the highest temperature during the current heatwave, which began late last year.

Leonora hit 49 degrees, breaking its previous record set for the location just a day earlier at 48.3. The 47.8 level reached on Monday matched a high that had stood for about 55 years.

Inland regions of NSW, such as Tibooburra, will come close to those levels, with 48 predicted for Sunday. Victorian towns such as Mildura and Swan Hill, meanwhile, may see peaks of 42 during the next ramp-up on Friday. – (Bloomberg)