Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Australia's hottest day hampers wildfire fight

Blazes raging across Australia have already destroyed more than 100 homes and are threatening more as dry, hot weather persists.'s Dara Brown reports.

By NBC News staff and wire reports

Firefighters battled scores of wildfires raging across southeast Australia on Tuesday as authorities evacuated national parks and warned that record-level, blistering temperatures and high winds had led to "catastrophic" conditions in some areas.

"We are shaping up for one of the worst fire danger days on record," New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. "You don't get conditions worse than this. We are at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas leaving early is your safest option."

Catastrophic threat level is the most severe rating applicable.

Firefighters hope cooler weather sweeping up the Australian east coast late Tuesday, which dramatically dropped temperatures in a matter of hours in some coastal towns, would ease the incendiary conditions. Monday was the hottest day on record for Australia, with the average temperature across the continent reaching 104.6 degrees F., Australia's?7 News network reported.

The?Sydney Morning Herald reported?that the unprecedented temperatures left weather forecasters having to add new colors - deep purple and pink - to their charts.

No deaths had been reported, although officials in Tasmania were still trying to find about 100 residents who had been missing since a fire tore through the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, last week, destroying around 90 homes. On Tuesday, police said no bodies were found during preliminary checks of the ruined houses.

Australia faces 'catastrophic' days

Wildfires have razed 50,000 acres of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania since Friday. In New South Wales, the country's most populous state, the fires had burned through more than 64,000 acres of land.

More than 130 fires were blazing across New South Wales, though only a few dozen houses were under threat by early evening. One fire was threatening about 30 homes near the small town of Cooma, south of the capital of Canberra. Cooma-Monaro shire mayor Dean Lynch told Australia's Sky News some residents had evacuated to the nearby town of Nimmitabel.

Strong winds were hampering efforts to bring the fires under control. Wind gusts more than 60 mph were recorded in some parts of the state.

PhotoBlog: Wildfires in Tasmania

Arsonists have been responsible for some of the fires, 7 News reported. In western Sydney on Tuesday, three people were charged with deliberately starting a fire, the network said.

All state forests and national parks were closed as a precaution and total fire bans were in place with temperatures surpassing 113 degrees F. in some areas.

One volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, about 140 miles southwest of Sydney, on Monday. He was flown to a hospital in Sydney for treatment, and his condition had improved Tuesday, Fitzsimmons said.

More coverage from 7 News

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

The Associated Press, Reuters and 7 News contributed to this report; 7 News is NBC's Australian partner.

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