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Australian Firefighters Use Cooler Weather to Contain Blazes

Firefighters in Australia, which is emerging from last week’s record heat wave, are using cooler temperatures to contain wildfires that destroyed property and claimed lives.

Temperatures in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, which reached a record on Jan. 18 of 45.8 degrees Celsius (114.4 degrees Fahrenheit), are forecast to reach 25 degrees today, with Melbourne hitting 26 degrees. More than 120 blazes are still burning in New South Wales and Victoria, the nation’s most populous states, according to emergency services.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Kim Payne, spokeswoman for Victoria’s State Control Centre, said in a phone interview from Melbourne today. “We’re using the current cooler, more stable conditions to work really hard to get the fires contained before temperatures peak again later in the week.”

Melbourne is forecast to rise to 35 degrees on Jan. 24, while the national capital, Canberra, which posted its second-highest temperature on Jan. 18 of 41.6 degrees Celsius, will reach 34 degrees on Jan. 22. Sydney is forecast to register 30 degrees on Jan. 22.

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

More than 150 homes have been destroyed by fire throughout the nation’s southeast this month. An 80-year-old man was killed last week by a blaze in the Victoria town of Seaton, while a firefighter died earlier this month in the island state of Tasmania, where about a 100 homes have been destroyed.

The fires have created a thick smoke haze above Melbourne, which is hosting the Australian Open tennis tournament. The haze has been seen in New Zealand, about 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) east of Australia, United Press International reported yesterday, citing MetService meteorologists.

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

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