AUSTRALIA – Melbourne’s air quality rating is currently “good”, but the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) expects this to be downgraded to “very poor” in the afternoon.
Air quality is rated as “hazardous” in Coolaroo, in the city’a north, as well as Wangaratta and bushfire-affected Gippsland.
“Avoid being outside in the smoke and dust, especially if you are coughing or have shortness of breath,” said an EPA notice.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Matthew Michael said “smoke that’s over Melbourne at the moment that’s causing a bit of that orangey-brown on the horizon is extended from NSW”.
“You can see it for yourself … almost all of eastern Australia is currently under some level of smoke.”
Mr Michael said satellite images showed about 25 per cent of Australia was covered by what looked like extensive low cloud cover but was actually thick smoke from the NSW bushfires.
Senior forecaster Keris Arndt said it was not the first time smoke from other states had covered Melbourne, but said it was unusual for the smoke to be so thick.
“You need a very big fire for there to be this much smoke, and the fires in NSW are pretty unprecedented, so it’s an indication of how big those fires are,” he said.
There are five advice messages for bushfires in the Gippsland region, but Mr Michael said said smoke from those blazes was dissipating.
Melbourne is on the way to cracking a 143-year-old December record of 43.7 degrees.
The temperature hit 37 degrees at noon, and is set to hit 44 degrees by late afternoon.
The mercury is forecast to hover above 40 degrees until a weak cool change provides a reprieve when the sun sets about 9pm.
Emergency services are at a “Tier 3” today, the highest level of bushfire readiness.
The South-West and Wimmera regions are facing “extreme” fire danger days, with central parts of the state rated “severe” and eastern parts rated “very high”.
A State Control Centre spokesman said “the combination of very hot temperatures mixed with winds that we haven’t seen earlier in the week will contribute to increased fire danger”.
“We’re expecting conditions that will allow any fire that does start to grow very quickly and continue to grow with those winds until late into the night before the cool change comes through,” he said.
“Any fire during the day will continue to grow and we will want to attack is pretty quickly.”
Saturday’s milder weather, with a forecast top of 19 degrees, will make it easier to contain any fires that start on Friday.
Several small grass fires started across Victoria on Friday – all were quickly extinguished after a quick response by fire crews and the public.
Hundreds of firefighters are battling five blazes in East Gippsland, in the suburbs Buchan, Brookville, Ensay and W Tree.
Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, from the Horsley Park brigade were killed when their fire truck rolled late on Thursday.
Public transport will be affected by the extreme heat, with V/Line services to operate on an amended timetable and speed restrictions expected on metropolitan lines.
Yarra Trams has replaced trams with buses on route 78 trams in the inner south-east and route 82 trams in the western suburbs.
Route 30 trams will also be cancelled with route 12 trams diverting down La Trobe Street.