Published: 13:21, December 9, 2023 | Updated: 13:22, December 9, 2023
Australia swelters through heat wave as bushfire risk grows
By Reuters

In this photo released by the Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) and received by AFP on Nov 23, 2023, shows firefighters watching a bushfire burn north of the city of Perth. (HANDOUT / WESTERN AUSTRALIA DEPARTMENT OF FIRE AND EMERGENCY SERVICES VIA AFP)

SYDNEY - Australia's southeast on Saturday sweated through a heat wave that raised the risk of bushfires and led authorities to ban fires in large parts of New South Wales state.

The nation's weather forecaster predicted a maximum temperature in Sydney, Australia's most populous city, of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), almost 15 degrees above the average December high for the city.

The heat heightens the risk of bushfires in an already high-risk fire season during Australia's December-February summer due to an El Nino weather event, typically associated with extremes such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts

At Observatory Hill in the center of Sydney, the capital of News South Wales, the temperature was 38.9 C (102 F) at 1 pm (0200 GMT) on Saturday, according to forecaster data.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in Sydney it was "a time to ensure that we look after each other and stay safe".

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"Today in Sydney, and in other parts of the east coast, it's a reminder that there just might be something in this climate change stuff," Albanese said, according to a transcript.

The heat heightens the risk of bushfires in an already high-risk fire season during Australia's December-February summer due to an El Nino weather event, typically associated with extremes such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.

New South Wales fire authorities said on social media platform X that a fire ban was in place for large swaths of the state, including Sydney, given "very hot, dry and windy conditions" brought by warm northwesterly winds.

There were 71 grass and bushfires - 21 of them uncontained - burning across New South Wales on Saturday, the state's Rural Fire Service said.

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Authorities are concerned about a return of dangerous fire conditions this summer after Australia's last two fire seasons were quiet compared with the 2019-2020 "Black Summer" that destroyed an area the size of Turkey and killed 33 people.

In a warning on Friday, the forecaster said "severe heat wave conditions" would continue in much of New South Wales into next week, with peak temperatures predicted for the weekend.

At Sydney's Coogee Beach, head lifeguard Clive Stiff said the extreme heat meant a busy Saturday for those on patrol.

"We're mostly worried about sun safety and hydration, both for members of the public and members of the Patrol of course," Stiff said.

Beachgoer Carley Carr took a more relaxed view of the heat.

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"It's about time that we had a good summer. So we'll be down at the beach probably early and staying inside for middle of the day," Carr said.