Australia — Emergency services in three states and the ACT are on extreme alert as severe weather creates unprecedented bushfire conditions.
Victorian fire authorities are asking people not to go into rural areas with temperatures in some areas forecast to rise into the mid-40s and strong northerly winds raising the threat higher than before the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.
A total fire ban has been declared across wide areas of Australia’s south-east with NSW authorities warning people to prepare for the worst now.
“It will be very hot,” Inspector Ben Shephard from the state’s Rural Fire Service said.
“They should take this opportunity tonight and into early tomorrow morning to clear around their properties.
“Make sure they have a plan in place are they going to stay and defend or if they’re going to go they need to do so early but where are they going to go so take this opportunity now to consider those options.”
In Victoria, fire resources have been boosted significantly, with authorities particularly concerned about dry conditions in the state’s north-east and in the Otway Ranges.
A blaze in the Bunyip State Forest, near Pakenham south-east of Melbourne, is worrying firefighters who fear it will break containment lines and directly threaten a number of communities.
Incident controller Chris Hardman has described tomorrow’s forecast conditions as vicious and extraordinary.
“There is potential for the fire to directly impact the communities of Labertouche and Tonimbuk,” Mr Hardman said.
“Beyond the direct threat in extreme fire weather we do get lots of spotting and ember attack, and the communities of Jindivick, Bunyip, Drouin West, and Longwarry could face ember attack.”
Dennis Ward from the state’s Department of Sustainability and Environment says people should avoid the bush if they can, and be alert. National parks and state forests are being closed.
“We’re asking people to work in partnership with us and be particularly vigilant both in the rural and certainly in the urban areas,” he said.
South Australian fire crews are also on high alert, with temperatures in Adelaide expected to reach 43 degrees.
Andrew Lawson from the Country Fire Service (CFS) thinks it is sheer luck that SA has not faced major bushfires this summer and says the extreme heat and windy conditions expected over the next two days pose a big threat.
“The most devastating effect is the wind, so whilst we’ve been coming through a period of very high temperatures, we’ve been relatively fortunate in that the winds haven’t been strong but the bureau is forecasting strong winds on Friday and Saturday and that is a recipe for danger for us,” he said.
The ACT Emergency Services Agency has also issued a warning about severe weather conditions and fire danger in the ACT for this weekend.
The Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983 killed 75 people and left huge swathes of destruction across South-east Australia.
The weather conditions are also raising fears of health complaints.
New South Wales health authorities are hoping to avoid the death and injury linked to the heatwave in Australia’s south.
The head of emergency medicine at Sydney’s Saint Vincent’s Hospital, Gordian Fulder, says hydration is the key to avoiding injury, especially when drinking alcohol in the heat.
“During the day, you should plan to drink an extra litre of fluid but the ones who are in trouble are at the extremes, the young and the old, and they don’t feel it as well.”
South Australian medical authorities say they are also preparing for the latest casualties of the heatwave.
Chief medical officer at SA Health Professor Paddy Phillips says hospitals are ready for a potential spike in patient numbers with the latest bout of heat.
“The hospitals are still busy. They’re not as busy as they were. There has been a decline in activity,” he said.
“The ambulance service is still busy but, again, not as busy as they were.”
The weather bureau says South Australians can expect longer and hotter heatwaves in the next few years.