Wildfires Threaten Australian Homes as Record Heatwave Eases

Emergency personnel battling more than 100 wildfires across Australia’s most-populous state warned that properties remain at risk even as record temperatures ease.

A fire ban across the entire state remained in force today even as a wave of cooler air sweeps over Australia’s southeast, prompting emergency warnings to be canceled. Bushfires are still burning in the southern island state of Tasmania, where more than 100 properties were destroyed, and in Victoria. No fatalities have been confirmed.

“We are by no means through the woods yet,” the Bureau of Meteorology’s assistant director of weather services, Alasdair Hainsworth, said in an e-mailed statement today. Strong winds, high fuel loads and extreme heat “are causing extremely challenging fire conditions for our emergency services partners,” he said.

Southeast New South Wales cooled today with temperatures in Sydney, which reached 42.3 degrees Celsius (108.1 degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday, easing to 25 degrees. Australia registered a national average of 40.33 degrees on Jan. 7, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records, according to the bureau.

Sydney’s temperature is forecast to reach 33 degrees on Jan. 12, while Melbourne will reach 37 degrees on Jan. 11, the weather office said.

Emergency Warnings

Tennis players at the Sydney International, a lead-up tournament for next week’s Australian Open in Melbourne, yesterday played through temperatures as high as 41.4 degrees at Olympic Park. They draped themselves in ice towels at changeovers during matches and some took ice baths to help them recover.

Agnieszka Radwanska, the No. 4-ranked women’s player from Poland, said it was “too hot to play,” while 2011 French Open champion Li Na of China said it felt like she was playing in a sauna. They both won their matches.

“They say it was 40, but on the tennis court even more,” Li told reporters. “I finish first set and I was feeling my feet already burning.”

Black Saturday

Australia’s hot, dry climate makes bushfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer, with the worst fires in the nation’s history, the so-called Black Saturday blazes, killing 173 people as they swept through rural Victoria in February


Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Jan. 7 surveyed the devastation in Tasmania, where more than 3,000 people were forced from their homes by wildfires.

The fires have caused losses estimated at A$49 million ($51 million) in Tasmania and A$9 million in Victoria, the Insurance Council of Australia said in an e-mailed statement today. There has been no significant property loss in New South Wales, it said.

In Victoria, as many as 20 homes were destroyed near Ballarat last night, the Herald Sun reported. One house was destroyed yesterday near the town of Yass in New South Wales, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said.

Fire last night damaged the Kings Canyon Resort, about 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of Alice Springs in central Australia, causing 120 people to be evacuated, the Australian newspaper reported.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott, a volunteer firefighter, said in an e-mailed statement today that he is delaying his annual vacation for three days to help battle blazes near Nowra in rural New South Wales.

A bushfire that was burning about 1 kilometer from the Bayswater Power Station in New South Wales was “not posing any threat to production from the plant,” said Rob Cooper, a spokesman for state-owned Macquarie Generation, which operates the site.

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