Sizzling temperatures hit Australia as wildfires persist
PERTH, Australia (AP) — A code red was issued in South Australia on Friday as temperatures hit 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) in the state’s capital, while firefighters battling wildfires in New South Wales established containment lines in cooler conditions ahead of an expected heatwave this weekend.
South Australia last week had 86 homes destroyed after wildfires flared in catastrophic conditions, as its capital Adelaide endured a heatwave peaking at a sizzling 46 C (115 F). There was respite during the Christmas period, but oppressive conditions returned Friday and are set to continue until Monday.
The heatwave has prompted the South Australian government to declare a code red, which aims to ensure the homeless kept cool and hydrated. A code red is an extreme heat watch issued to reduce the harmful effects on the homeless. Services include shelter options and additional food services.
“Keeping vulnerable South Australians safe and well in the extreme heat forecast over the next few days is our priority,” South Australian Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said.
The fire danger rating was severe in Adelaide, while the rest of the state was mostly between high and very high.
About 1,300 firefighters in New South Wales on Friday established containment lines in cooler conditions. Around 70 fires, however, continued to burn across the state with almost half of them not contained.
“Because these fires are large, they’re complex and they’re very prone to the elements. Once these weather conditions turn around, we know we’re going to see increased fire activity,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
“So they’re just giving their all to shore up protection and trying to consolidate and contain them as much as they can.”
Authorities are bracing for conditions to deteriorate with Sydney forecast to hit 31 Celsius (88 F) on Sunday before reaching 35 C (95 F) on Tuesday. The city’s western suburbs could reach 41 C (106 F) on Sunday.
Fire danger ratings remained very high in northwestern New South Wales, and high in Sydney.
About 5 million hectares (12.35 million acres) of land have burned nationwide over the past few months, with nine people killed and more than 950 homes destroyed. New South Wales, the country's most populous state, has received the brunt of the damage, with around 850 homes razed.
Meanwhile, Australia's Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Friday that beleaguered Prime Minister Scott Morrison has had discussions with state premiers over how to financially support volunteer firefighters.
Morrison, who has been under pressure since taking a much criticized family vacation to Hawaii during the wildfire crisis, announced Tuesday that volunteer firefighters from the federal public sector will receive paid leave entitlements.
"He's (Morrison) been discussing (financial support) with the Premier of New South Wales and other state and territory leaders," Reynolds told reporters in Perth.
“So the Prime Minister is looking at this issue further on how we can provide targeted support in these extreme circumstances, so that our volunteers get the support they need to keep volunteering.”