COOMA, Australia (AP) — Record temperatures across southern Australia cooled Wednesday, reducing the danger from scores of raging wildfires but likely bringing only a brief reprieve from the summer’s extreme heat and fire risk.
Australia had its hottest day on record Monday with a nationwide average of 40.33 degrees Celsius (104.59 degrees Fahrenheit), narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 40.17 C (104.31 F). Tuesday was the third hottest day at 40.11 C (104.20 F). Four of Australia’s hottest 10 days on record have been in 2013.
“There’s little doubt that this is a very, very extreme heat wave event,” said David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology.
“If you look at its extent, its duration, its intensity, it is arguably the most significant in Australia’s history,” he added.
Cooler conditions brought relief to firefighters, who were battling around 200 fires across Australia’s southeast, and gave them the chance to build earth breaks to try to contain the blazes. The risk from fire was expected increase later in the week as temperatures again rise.
No deaths have been reported from the wildfires, although around 100 people haven’t been accounted for since last week when a blaze destroyed around 90 homes in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart. On Wednesday, police spokeswoman Lisa Stingel said it was likely most of those people simply haven’t checked in with officials.
“There are no reports of missing persons in circumstances that cause us to have grave fears for their safety at this time,” Tasmania Police Acting Commissioner Scott Tilyard said in a statement.
The fires have been most devastating in Tasmania, where at least 128 homes have been destroyed since Friday and more than 80,000 hectares (198,000 acres) burned. Hundreds of people remain at two evacuation centers in the state’s south.
“People have lost everything. We can’t comprehend that devastation unless we are in their shoes,” Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings said.
In Victoria state, north of Tasmania, a fire injured six people, destroyed nine homes and caused the evacuation of the farming community of Carngham west of the city of Ballarat, the Country Fire Authority said.
In New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, firefighters were battling 141 fires, including 31 that had not yet been contained. Fires burning out of control near the towns of Cooma, Yass and Shoalhaven were the most concerning.
Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Fires in February 2009 killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.
Jones, the meteorologist, said the current heat wave conditions were a progression of the last four months of 2012, which were the hottest September-December period on record.
With Wednesday’s cool-down in southern Australia, the national capital, Canberra, dropped from a high of 36 C (97 F) on Tuesday to 28 C (82 F) and Sydney dropped from 43 C (109 F) to 23 C (73 F).
Jones expected that Wednesday would also rank among Australia’s hottest days when the national temperatures are calculated. That’s because the extreme heat has shifted from the heavier populated south to northern and central Australia.
The bureau forecast above average temperatures for the remainder of summer, compounding the fire danger created by a lack of rain across central and southern Australia over the past six months.
“It is going to be very challenging,” Jones said of the wildfire danger.
The U.S. government announced on Tuesday that 2012 had been the United States’ hottest year on record.
A brutal combination of a widespread drought linked to a La Nina weather event and a mostly absent winter pushed the average annual U.S. temperature last year up 0.6 C (1.08 F) above the previous record set in 1998 to 12.96 C (55.32 F).
The same La Nina brought flooding rains to much of Australia in the cool first half of 2012. The second half was dry and hot, ending the year with a daily temperature 0.11 C (0.2 F) above the daily average of 21.81 C (71.26 F).
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- UK Military: London attack victim was a "model soldier"
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- 2 more arrested in London attacks
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
- Illegal construction, shoddy materials at fault in Bangladesh factory disaster
- Ahead of Obama's speech, U.S. acknowledges four American drone killings
- Must-see morning clip: Bill O'Reilly visits "The Daily Show"
- Lawsuit alleges anti-gay hiring practices at ExxonMobil
- Boy Scouts poised to vote, still greatly divided on gay youth
- House supporters of KXL received $56m from fossil fuel industry
- 80-year-old becomes oldest to climb Mount Everest
- Before FBI shooting man implicated self, Tsarnaev in triple murder
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- UK emergency committee convenes after attack
- Brave scout leader tried to reason with London attackers
- If Alex Pareene were a cable news executive...
- El Salvador court delays ruling on abortion case while woman's life hangs in the balance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11