Australia on standby for fire threat as heat, winds return

Australia bushfires
FILE PHOTO: A fallen tree rests on a burned car after a wildfire destroyed the Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat in Kangaroo Valley, New South Wales, Australia, January 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Australian authorities warned on Friday of severe fire danger in densely populated areas this weekend, declaring a state of emergency in the capital, Canberra, as soaring temperatures and strong whipped up huge, unpredictable blazes.

With temperatures above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), emergency officials urged people to prepare for fires in parts of the southeast including hundreds of miles of coast south of Sydney that has already been badly hit in months of blazes.

“Tomorrow will be the peak of the heatwave in NSW with some areas expected to reach extreme heatwave conditions,” the New South Wales (NSW) state Rural Fire Service said in a Facebook post late on Friday.

Australia’s bushfires that have killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals since September. About 2,500 homes have been destroyed as more than 11.7 million hectares (117,000 sq km) have been razed.

The state of emergency will run for 72 hours, giving authorities greater powers to order evacuations, close roads and take control of the property.

Victoria state is also expected to see heatwave conditions on the weekend.

In neighbouring New Zealand, where smoke from the Australian blazes has turned glaciers brown, firefighters were battling to contain about 25 fires that spread rapidly to cover about 100 hectares on the South Island. Heatwave conditions were also forecast for much of the country over the weekend.