Australia Battles to Contain Wildfires Before Heatwave Resumes

Firefighters are battling to contain 17 blazes burning out of control in Australia’s most-populous state before hot weather returns tomorrow, as authorities pledged disaster relief for affected areas.

“Now is not the time to relax,” New South Wales state Premier Barry O’Farrell said today. “We need the public to remain alert.”

The state government yesterday offered natural disaster relief to 37 fire-ravaged areas, saying more than 130 blazes had devastated livestock and farmland. About 10,000 sheep have perished in the fires, at the cost of about A$1 million ($1 million) to farmers, O’Farrell said.

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

2009. The continent registered a national average of 40.33 degrees Celsius (104.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on Jan. 7, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records, and high temperatures are due to resume over the weekend, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Temperatures in Sydney, which reached 42.3 degrees earlier this week, eased to 24 degrees today and are forecast to reach 35 degrees on Jan. 12. In Melbourne, the capital of southeastern Victoria state, the weather bureau is forecasting a maximum of 37 degrees tomorrow.

Wildfires destroyed nine homes near Ballarat earlier this week and severe fire danger conditions are forecast to resume in seven districts of Victoria tomorrow, according to the Country Fire Authority.

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