|Australia readies for worst in road melting heat
Australian authorities today warned of some of the worst fire dangers since a 2009 inferno which killed 173 people, amid a major heatwave.
Victoria state, where the so-called Black Saturday firestorm flattened entire villages in 2009 and destroyed more than 2,000 homes, was again bracing for extreme fire weather.
“These next four days promise to be amongst the most significant that we have faced in Victoria since Black Saturday,'' said acting state premier Peter Ryan, AFP reports.
The peak danger day expected to be Friday when strong winds are forecast.
Two separate grass-fires tested crews early at Little River, west of Melbourne, and Kangaroo Ground to the east.
The flames raced out of control and triggering brief emergency alerts before water-bombing aircraft and engine teams managed to bring them under control.
There were also blazes alight in neighboring South Australia state.
Victoria and South Australia are bracing this week for what forecasters are describing as “severe to extreme heatwave conditions,’’ with successive days of temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius expected.
A similar heatwave struck before the 2009 fires, Australia's worst natural disaster of the modern era in terms of casualties. An estimated 374 people died during the preceding heatwave, with another 173 fatalities in the firestorm itself.
If the forecasts come to pass, Melbourne will endure its longest stretch of hot weather in 100 years.
Road tar was melting in southern Tasmania, with temperatures in the island state some 18 degrees above the January average, breaking several records.
Experts said the outlook had echoes of 2009.
“The forecast weather patterns are quite reminiscent of conditions before Black Saturday, with severe and expansive high temperatures across the southern part of the continent and the presence of low pressure cells on either side of the country in the tropics,'' said bushfire specialist Jason Sharples from the University of New South Wales in Canberra.
“The combination of high temperature and low relative humidity means that the moisture content of vegetation will be very low. Hence, if a bushfire was to start, it would be expected to spread more rapidly than normal.''
The heat system has moved across Australia from the west coast, where a wildfire in Perth razed 52 homes on Sunday.
Wildfires and hot weather are common in Australia's December-February summer months, but the current event is unusual because it is occurring in what is supposed to be a neutral period in the El Nino pattern bringing average conditions.