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Australia is bracing for its worst ever fire danger as a record-breaking heatwave prompted warnings of a “catastrophic” wildfire threat.The sweltering conditions have led to hundreds of fires across the country and are set to sweep across Sydney for the first time. Temperatures in the city are set to reach 109F (43C) on Tuesday.
The Premier of the state of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell, today urged people to prepare for extremely dangerous conditions. Holidaymakers and campers in the countryside have been told to avoid places at risk.
“Tomorrow is not just going to be in the 40s, it will perhaps be the worst fire danger the state has ever faced,” he said. “Do what emergency services tell you… Rethink your need to be in the bush, have a bush fire plan, be prepared but most importantly make sure you are well away from harm’s way.” Fire crews warned that heavy rains in recent years have led to a thick undergrowth in bushland that can swiftly burn.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said five straight days of temperatures averaging more than 102F (39C) was a record and the nationwide average on Monday was set to exceed 104F (40C)
“It’s just an extensive dome of heat over the continent,” said Dr Karl Braganza, from the bureau.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, today has visited the scenes of devastation in Tasmania, which is still under threat from ongoing fires and where thousands have been evacuated.
At least 100 homes were destroyed and police are still searching the ruins to see if there were any deaths. About 3000 people across the island state have taken refuge in shelters and hundreds more are continuing to evacuate their homes.
“It is an awful scene,” Ms Gillard said. “The devastation and the randomness of it. There’s so much cruelty, and luck and fate.”
Ms Gillard met with a survivor of the fires, Bob Brakey, a grandfather who saw his home of 25 years burn to the ground in the town of Dunalley.
“I’m probably one of the lucky ones,” he said.
“My insurance company has worked pretty well for me. I’m still disappointed to lose everything, though.”
Police in Tasmania said today they will charge a 31-year-old man over an unattended campfire that allegedly sparked one of the state’s massive fires.
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