Australia swelters in January sun

Australia is currently sweltering in the summer heat, after the hottest spring on record in late 2014. Picture: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty
Australia is currently sweltering in the summer heat, after the hottest spring on record in late 2014. Picture: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty
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Australia sweltered through its third-hottest year on record in 2014, weather authorities reported yesterday as firefighters continue to battle wildfires.

The southern spring from September to November last year was Australia’s hottest on record, the government’s Bureau of Meteorology said in its annual climate statement, following a record hot 2013.

The hot spring has set the stage for the current summer wildfire season to start early, with dozens of homes destroyed and thousands of residents evacuated from fire danger zones across southern and western Australia in recent days.

Seven of the country’s ten hottest years since national records started in 1910 have occurred since 2002, the statement said. Australia’s second hottest year was 2005.

The independent Climate Council think-tank said the Bureau of Meteorology’s statement showed climate change was making Australia hotter and more prone to wildfires.

The council’s Will Steffen said: “Over the past four decades, climate change has increased the occurrence of high fire ­danger weather in the south-east.”

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The Bureau of Meteorology also cited World Meteorological Organisation preliminary data indicating that 2014 is likely to be recognised as the world’s ­hottest year on record.

David Karoly, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Melbourne, said: “Unless there are rapid, substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia and globally, Australia will experience more heat waves and bush fires.”

Meanwhile, firefighters in South Australia were yesterday winning the battle to contain a sprawling wildfire raging on a 150-mile perimeter that has destroyed homes and left two people in hospital.

Hundreds of firefighters have struggled since last Friday to control the blaze that has swept across 31,000 acres of farms and woodland in hills north-west of the state capital, Adelaide.

Country fire service chief officer Greg Nettleton said: “We’ve made some significant progress on securing the outer perimeter during the course of the day and our crews will continue working into the night.”

Firefighters were also close to securing the safety of 1,000 houses in unburnt pockets inside the fire zone and were managing to reopen some roads into the scorched area, Mr Nettleton said.

State premier Jay Weatherill said assessment teams searching the destruction zone had found that 163 buildings, including 38 homes, had been destroyed or badly damaged by the blaze.

While 23 people were admitted to hospitals, only two had yet to be discharged. A farmer was seriously injured when a tree fell on him and a second ­patient was being treated in hospital for fatigue, he said.

The fires are the worst in terms of scale and intensity since the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 which killed 75 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in the states of Victoria and South Australia. In 2009, the Black Saturday wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.

Country fire service state co-ordinator Brenton Eden said the next 48 hours were critical because of higher forecast temperatures and changing winds.

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