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Australian Heat Wave Adds to Fire Risk in New South Wales

Temperatures soared through much of New South Wales, ensuring a total fire ban stayed in place as firefighters battle blazes in the south of Australia’s most populous state.

Temperatures rose as high as 46.8 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit) in inland parts of the state today, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Sydney peaked at 31 degrees, lower than previously forecast, as a cooler weather system moved up the nation’s east coast, the bureau said. It got as hot as 42 degrees in Newcastle, a city 167 kilometers (105 miles) to the north of Sydney.

An estimated 96 fires were burning in New South Wales, with seven of those yet to be contained, according to emergency services. A fire ban will continue in eight areas of the state tomorrow including the Queensland border region in the north, the far west and central west plains and the Riverina region in the southwest, Sky News reported, citing the state’s Rural Fire Service.

“Some areas are getting a bit of a reprieve” from the cooler weather system, Rural Fire Service spokesman Anthony Clark told Sky News. Still “we are still going to see severe and extreme fire danger ratings for much of the New South Wales.”

Temperatures in Sydney are forecast to peak at 26 degrees tomorrow, although some regions in the state may reach 38 degrees or higher, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Winds, Lightning

Firefighters battled fires fanned by high winds in southern parts of the state while in the north lightning strikes sparked new blazes. Residents near Cooma, about 110 kilometers south of the nation’s capital Canberra, were urged to be on alert as winds stirred a fire that has already covered 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) and was threatening some rural properties.

Australia’s hot, dry climate makes bushfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer. The continent registered a national average of 40.33 degrees Celsius on Jan. 7, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records.

Climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and longer heat waves and more extreme hot days, as well as exacerbating bushfire conditions, the Climate Commission, an independent group of Australian climate scientists, said in a report today.

‘A Hotter World’

“We live in a hotter world and the risk of more frequent and severe extreme weather has already increased,” David Karoly, the University of Melbourne professor who wrote the report, said in an e-mailed statement.

The worst fires in the nation’s history, the so-called Black Saturday blazes, killed 173 people as they swept through rural areas of Victoria state in February 2009.

While a fire ban in Victoria was lifted today, the fire danger rating remains high or very high throughout the state, according to the Country Fire Service website. Emergency services in the island state of Tasmania, where more than 3,000 people were forced from their homes earlier in the week, urged residents near the Tasman Peninsula to be vigilant.

Forecasters are also watching Severe Tropical Cyclone Narelle off Australia’s resource-rich northwestern coast in Western Australia state. The storm has triggered the evacuation of off-shore natural-gas workers for Apache Corp. (APA) and Chevron Corp. (CVX) and saw Rio Tinto Group suspend iron-ore loading onto ships because of port closures.

Narelle was cut to category 4, after earlier being graded at the highest category 5, and the storm center is moving south, remaining off the coast, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The Dampier Port Authority reopened its terminal today as the threat from the cyclone passed, a spokeswoman said.

The storm is forecast to trigger high tides, heavy rain and wind gusts of more than 100 kilometers an hour in coastal areas today, the bureau said. It’s not expected to make landfall.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tracy Withers in Wellington at twithers@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net

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