States brace for bushfire horror in Australian heatwave

States brace for bushfire horror in Australian heatwave

6 February 2009

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Australia — Firefighters in three states are bracing for a horror weekend as record high temperatures and dry conditions pose an unprecedented bushfire risk.

Authorities have warned that the conditions could be worse than those that led to the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983.

The Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment said a 123ha blaze burning in the Bunyip State Park was likely to jump containment lines over the weekend and pose a threat to the nearby communities of Labertouche and Tonimbuk.

DSE incident controller Chris Hardman said: “Saturday’s predicted weather conditions are the most vicious we’ve seen.

“Temperatures around 43 degrees and bone-dry, howling winds are formidable opponents. We need to give the community a realistic picture of what to expect.”

A total fire ban has been implemented across Victoria.

Thirty homes have already been lost to an inferno in the Gippsland region over the past week.

Ten minor fires burnt across South Australia today, and total fire bans have been put in place by the Country Fire Service in nine of the state’s 15 fire districts.

South Australian fire chief Euan Ferguson warned: “If a fire escapes containment lines, we simply would not be able to control the head fire until the weather conditions change significantly with a cold front.”

He said it was most unusual to see such extremes of temperature across NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia in rapid succession.

NSW is forecast to be the hottest place on earth on Sunday, with the mercury predicted to hit a horrendous 47C in parts of the state.

Residents of Sydney’s western suburbs have been warned to prepare for temperatures around 44C.

The heat is predicted to cause havoc for Rural Fire Service firefighters who are already battling several blazes across the state in the Bega Valley, Lithgow and Shoalhaven regions.

While no property is yet under threat, the Bega Valley bushfire has so far destroyed about 1105ha in the South East Forest National Park, about 7km southeast of Wyndham.

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