Australia has set a record for its hottest ever day for a second day running after Tuesday’s 105.5F (41C) was followed by a searing 107.4F (42C) on Wednesday.
The heatwave has added to dangerous fire conditions with warnings in place for most of the country and more than 170 fires burning in New South Wales and Queensland.
The Bureau of Meteorology said on Wednesday the new nationally averaged maximum had been reached again, with the two recent records beating the previous of 104.5F (40C) set in January 2013.
Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales declared a seven-day state of emergency on Thursday as oppressive conditions fanned around 100 wildfires.
Around 2,000 firefighters were battling the blazes, half of which remain uncontrolled, with the support of U.S. and Canadian backup teams and personnel from the Australian Defence Force.
The last state of emergency ran for seven days in mid-November amid ‘catastrophic’ fire risk and was the first implemented in New South Wales since 2013. Central Sydney reached a maximum of 102F (39C) on Thursday, while outer suburbs scorched at 108F (42C).
A statewide total fire ban announced on Tuesday will remain in place until midnight on Saturday.
Around 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has burnt nationwide during a torrid past few months, with six people killed and more than 800 homes destroyed.
The annual Australian fire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, started early after an unusually warm and dry winter.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities were concerned with the unpredictable conditions.
‘With extreme wind conditions, extreme hot temperatures, we have a good idea, a good sense, of where the most concerning areas are, but again when you’ve got those turbulent conditions, embers and spot fires can occur very unpredictably,’ she told reporters.
Sydney’s air pollution levels on Thursday ranged from poor to hazardous. During the past month, hazardous smoke has often blanketed Australia’s most populous city and made its iconic skyline barely visible.
Australian police are hunting for thieves who stole 79,000 gallons (300,000 litres) of water amid the worst drought to hit the east of the country in decades, officials said Thursday.
The thieves drained the water from two tanks on a property in Evans Plains, a hamlet about three hours west of Sydney in New South Wales state, police said.
The theft was discovered Sunday, but could have occured anytime in the previous two weeks, they said.
“Police wish to speak with anyone who saw water trucks or vehicles fitted with equipment/ability to cart water in the Evans Plains area,” they said in a statement.
A police spokeswoman said the prolonged drought and water shortages suffered across parts of outback New South Wales likely prompted the crime.
“I would think that the recent conditions with drought etc had something to do with it,” she said.
Australia is the most arid inhabited continent and has just gone through it’s driest southern spring on record, with no significant rain forecast in coming months.
New South Wales has been the region hardest hit by the drought, with a number of towns running out of water, farms in crisis and ranchers forced to sell off livestock.
The state is also suffering from unprecedented bushfires across vast swathes of land left tinder-dry by the drought, which scientists say have been exacerbated by global warming.
Reporting by AFP
Hospitals have recorded a 10% increase in visits from patients with respiratory conditions during the past week.
The Australian Medical Association has recommended people keep hydrated, cool and out of the sun.
Wildfires are also burning in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
Perth, the capital on the west coast, is experiencing its hottest December with average temperatures for the month at 97F and seven degrees above the mean.
Adelaide, in the southeast, is currently experiencing a four-day heatwave culminating in a sizzling 113F on Thursday.
The unprecedented conditions has reignited debate on whether Australia’s conservative government has taken enough action on climate change. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.
Protesters on Thursday camped outside Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Sydney residence demanding urgent action on climate change.
Morrison, who is currently on holidays, conceded last week that ‘climate change along with many other factors’ contributed to the wildfires.
A stifling hot air mass and blistering heatwave conditions scorched central Australia as temperatures soared beyond 113F (45C) in some places on Tuesday.
The Queensland outback town of Birdsville was the hottest place in the country on Tuesday, reaching a peak of 117.9F (47.7C).
Not far behind was Wudinna airport in South Australia which reached 117.1F (47.3C).
Some Australians made the best of the heat, flocking to beaches to sunbathe and leaping into the water to cool off.
But the heat is adding to a bush fire crisis which has already killed six people and destroyed hundreds of homes, with some fires raging out of control for weeks on end since the start of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Hundreds of bush fires have been raging across Australia, including a ‘mega-blaze’ burning north of Sydney.
Smoke from the fires has already engulfed Sydney, raising air pollution to hazardous levels in a crisis which leading doctors have labelled a ‘public health emergency’.
Strengthening winds will create extreme fire dangers in parts of Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra, forecasters say.
Turbulent winds of up to 60mph are forecast to also hit the east coast and worsen the blazes.
‘Over the next few days we are going to see firefighters, the emergency services and all those communities close to fires… challenged with a new threat,’ New South Wales fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Wednesday.
Embers carried by the winds can travel up to 18.6 miles from a blaze, authorities said.
Adelaide is facing a four-day blast which is expected to peak at 111F (44C) on Friday while Victoria, New South Wales and Canberra will also suffer extreme heat.
Parts of New South Wales are forecast to reach around 110F (46C) on Thursday.
Some remote areas could even surpass 122F (50C), which has happened only twice since records began and not since 1998.
Sky News meteorologist Rob Sharpe said: ‘If we don’t break 50 degrees next week, it’s quite likely at least one town in Australia will before the end of January’.
Scientists say the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming, and a prolonged drought that has left the land tinder dry and many towns running out of water.