Australia Faces Soaring Temperatures as Fire Bans Enforced

Total fire bans are being enforced in Australia’s two most-populous states today as high temperatures bring the return of severe conditions.

Temperatures in Sydney, which reached 42.3 degrees Celsius (108.1 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this week, are forecast to soar to 39 degrees tomorrow after hitting 29 degrees today, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. National capital Canberra is expected to hit a maximum of 37 degrees tomorrow.

Firefighters in New South Wales and Victoria states received a reprieve yesterday when cooler temperatures gave them a chance to contain wildfires that spread in searing heat earlier this week. The continent registered a national average of 40.33 degrees Celsius on Jan. 7, the hottest day in more than 100 years of records.

In New South Wales, more than 80 fires are still burning, according to emergency services. Livestock losses are estimated at more than 21,000, mostly sheep, at the cost of A$2.5 million ($2.6 million) to A$3 million, Matt Linnegar, the National Farmers’ Federation’s chief executive officer, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today. The losses are unlikely to impact lamb prices, he said.

Australia’s hot, dry climate makes bushfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer. The worst fires in the nation’s history, the so-called Black Saturday blazes, killed 173 people as they swept through rural Victoria in February 2009.

Forecasters are also watching Severe Tropical Cyclone Narelle, which has strengthened to a category 4 storm off Australia’s resource-rich northwest coast. The storm has triggered the evacuation of off-shore natural-gas workers for Apache Corp. and Chevron Corp. and seen Rio Tinto Group suspend iron-ore loading on to ships due to port closures.

Narelle is likely to trigger wind gusts of more than 140 kilometers (97 miles) an hour on Jan. 13 that may affect the town of Exmouth, the bureau said. It’s not forecast to make landfall within the next two days.

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