Southeast Australian heatwaves signal a horror fire season


Southeast Australian heatwaves signal a horror fire season

Frank Gaglioti

27 January 2018

In stark contrast to freezing conditions in the northern hemisphere, southeastern Australia started the year with record-breaking heatwaves that foreshadow a severe summer fire season over the next two or three months.

On January 6, Penrith, a western suburb of Sydney, experienced 47.3 degrees Celsius or 117 degrees Fahrenheit, making it the hottest place on the planet for that day—just below the hottest temperature ever recorded in Sydney.

The scorching conditions extended across the southeastern corner, where the great majority of the Australian population live. The states of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) all experienced temperatures over 40 degrees C. That heatwave was followed by another on January 18–19 with similar temperatures,

Many areas were subject to power outages, including on the NSW Central Coast, where more than 4,000 properties were affected. Approximately 3,000 properties were cut off in Sydney, along with thousands of homes in Melbourne. As in other heatwaves, there is likely to have been a spike in deaths, with the elderly, infirm and young children the worst affected.

Fire is an ever-present danger as southeastern Australia is one of the most bushfire prone areas of the world. High temperatures, especially when accompanied with strong winds, create the perfect conditions for fire storms fuelled by highly-flammable eucalyptus vegetation.

On January 6, several homes were destroyed by fires that swept through 12,100 hectares of scrub and farmland at Sherwood in South Australia’s southeast. In Victoria, 139 fires broke out across the state, including in Carrum Downs on the outskirts of Melbourne. One of the worst fires was fanned by…

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