Australia Heat Wave Strains Power Supplies, Sparks Wildfires

Temperatures soared to more than 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) in southeastern Australia as a heat wave strained electricity supplies and sparked wildfires.

Extreme heat across the states of Victoria and South Australia is causing high demand for electricity and as many as 100,000 homes and businesses may be affected by power outages and reduced supply, Victorian Energy Minister Nicholas Kotsiras said in a statement. Bushfire warnings were in place across the two states and New South Wales, with high winds forecast to increase the danger tomorrow, emergency authorities said.

Play was suspended on some courts at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, with the temperature reaching 43.9 degrees Celsius. Top-seeded player Serena Williams, who reached the third round, said yesterday it was “too hot to get into rallies,” while two players and a ball-boy have received medical treatment due to the heat.

Electricity prices in Victoria surged 7 percent to A$72.25 a megawatt-hour on Jan. 14, the highest since Jan. 30, 2012, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Power in South Australia climbed to A$81 a megawatt-hour on Jan. 13, the highest since March 2012.

AGL Energy Ltd. is working to bring online a unit at the Loy Yang power station in Victoria after the extreme weather led to “unexpected equipment failure,” the company said in a statement.

Wildfire Threat

Australia’s hot, dry climate makes wildfires a major risk in the southern hemisphere’s summer, reflected on Jan. 12 when blazes on the eastern fringes of Perth in Western Australia burnt 52 homes, according to authorities.

In February 2009, fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the so-called Black Saturday blazes, the worst in Australian history.

Total fire bans have been issued today for areas of Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. The 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.

Adelaide’s central business district reached a high of 44.2 degrees Celsius today, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, while Roseworthy, a town of 700 people about 50 kilometers to the north, recorded the nation’s highest temperature with 46.4 degrees Celsius.

Very hot conditions are forecast to abate for the majority of southeast Australia on Jan. 18, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.