Dozens of wildfires sparked by lightning strikes overnight rage in heat wave conditions across rural southern Australia.
Firefighters were able to contain most of the fires in South Australia and Victoria. But authorities warned of worsening fire conditions on Friday, when winds were expected to gather pace.
Temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius in the state capitals of Adelaide and Melbourne, with officials saying the weather presented a “serious public health risk.”
“We know that there are serious consequences from extreme heat and that can be increased hospitalisations and unfortunately increased deaths,” said Chief Health Officer Rosemary Lester, during a news conference in Melbourne.
Several blazes were burning in South Australia, prompting the deployment of extra firefighting aircraft to the state, and in Victoria lightning strikes started more fires on Tuesday night.
“Overnight lightning moved into the northwestern part of the state and central Victoria that saw 256 new fires start. Out of those, 15 fires are still listed as going and are being worked on by aircraft and crews on the ground,” said Fire Services
Commissioner Craig Lapsley, who was speaking from the state capital Melbourne.
The fires in Victoria also destroyed part of a guesthouse on the Mornington Peninsula that dates back to the mid 19th Century.
“When I got here the fire and the heat and the smoke, it was clear that no one was going to bring it under control.” said Clive Blazey, the Founder of Heronswood House.