Australia fires worsen as every state hits 40C
SCORES of fires are burning out of control across Australia amid a heatwave that has seen temperatures exceed 40C (104F) in every state.
The British Broadcasting Corporation said that the most dangerous fires on Monday were in the state of Victoria.
About 30,000 residents and tourists were urged to flee East
Gippsland – a popular holiday region – but evacuations were later deemed too risky as fires encroached on major roads.
A volunteer firefighter died battling a blaze in the state of New South Wales.
In total, 10 people have died in the nation’s bushfire crisis since September.
Meteorologists say a climate system in the Indian Ocean, known as the dipole, is the main driver behind the extreme heat in Australia.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said another fire fighter was injured in a separate vehicle.
“This is awful news for the families and our sympathies are with them. These are testing times. We are so grateful for the courage and dedication of our fire fighters,” he tweeted.
The volunteer fire fighter is the third to be killed so far this fire season. Two volunteer firefighters, both fathers to young children, died on 19 December battling a blaze near Sydney.
Prime Minister Morrison was widely criticised for being abroad on holiday at the time, and returned home early.
Scorching temperatures, strong winds and thunderstorms created dangerous conditions in Victoria on Monday.
In East Gippsland, three fires burning near the towns of Bruthen, Buchan and Bonang rapidly expanded as temperatures soared to the mid-40cs.
Officials said the winddriven blazes were “racing” towards the coast, and had moved faster than predicted.
Other emergency warnings remained in place for several fires in the state, with some urged to evacuate.
“We have had a challenging day in Victoria,” said Andrew Crisp, the state’s emergency management commissioner.
He said the huge blazes had produced their own weather systems from smoke columns “punching into the atmosphere 14km high”.
“There’s lightning coming out of these columns. It is unpredictable [and] it’s dangerous out there,” he said.
Similar fire-generated thunderstorms – or pyro cumulonimbus – were also recorded in NSW.
Lightning strikes in dry, drought-affected forests have the potential to quickly become fires that threaten lives and homes.
Dry lightning sparked at least 70 new fires in the region in the past 24 hours, officials said.
A 250km (155-mile) stretch of the Princes Highway, east of Bairnsdale, was closed on Monday.
On Sunday, Mr Crisp urged people in the region – about 280km (175 miles) east of Melbourne – to “get out”, but confirmed on Monday that many people had remained in the region.
Elsewhere in the state, a major New Year’s Eve music festival has been cancelled after organisers said the bushfire threat was too dangerous.