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Wildfire Danger Looms in Australia’s South as Temperatures Soar

Heatwave conditions that triggered a wildfire which destroyed more than 50 homes in Australia’s west are forecast to ignite blazes in the nation’s most densely populated southeast, with authorities enforcing total fire bans.

Melbourne, the nation’s second-largest city which is hosting the Australian Open tennis grand slam tournament, is forecast to reach 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) today, with maximum temperatures not expected to dip under 39 degrees Celsius until Jan. 18. An extreme heat warning has been issued for South Australia’s capital of Adelaide.

Australia’s hot, dry climate makes wildfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer, reflected two days ago when blazes in the Shire of Mundaring on the eastern fringes of Perth in Western Australia burnt 52 homes, according to authorities. In February 2009, fires across Melbourne’s Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the so-called Black Saturday blazes, the worst in Australian history.

While temperatures in Western Australia have cooled, the Mundaring fire is yet to be extinguished, with the state’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services warning that strong, gusty winds could cause flare ups.

Total fire bans have been issued today for areas of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania states. Australia’s annual wildfire season had an early start when more than 200 homes were destroyed in October, most in the Blue Mountains about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Sydney.

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