Australia braces for second heatwave as wildfires continue to rage

A firefighter sprays water on a blaze nearing a home in Blackheath, New South Wales, on December 22 - Twitter@NSWRFS

A second heatwave is set to sweep through Australia in coming days, threatening to worsen an already dire wild fire crisis.

This fire season more than four million hectares have been burnt in Australia, almost one third the size of England, destroyed nearly 1,000 houses, and has killed at least nine people, with one more missing.

Over the past week South Australia endured four days of extreme heatwave conditions, pushing into the high 40s. 84 homes were destroyed since last Thursday and at least 2,700 animals killed as fires wiped out parts of the Adelaide Hills region.

In New South Wales, approximately 100 homes were lost to bush fires over the weekend, but weather eased on Monday through to Wednesday, allowing firefighters time to establish desperately needed containment lines.

More than 70 fires are still burning in New South Wales alone, with 30 uncontained.

The last heatwave saw the record for the hottest average maximum temperature in Australia broken twice in two days, with 40.9 and 41.9 recorded back to back.

In addition, record high individual site temperature set twice last Thursday, Eucla in Western Australia with 49.8C, and the South Australian Nullarbor weather station with 49.9C a few hours later.

Professor David Karoly, a leading climate scientist at the CSIRO, the Australian government's scientific research agency, said the record spikes were way beyond what had been seen previously, and the cause is climate change.

The fires have destroyed an area almost a third the size of England - Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation
The fires have destroyed an area almost a third the size of England Credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

“We're smashing the extremes by effectively a degree relative to the other cases because that's by how much the Australian temperatures have warmed,” he said.

South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales are all expecting severe heat in coming days.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Richard Russell told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the fire danger in Victoria would be very high across the entire state this weekend and was likely to be upgraded to severe on Monday when the heatwave peaked.

“On Monday, temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees across the majority of the state, and 44C in the north-west including Mildura and Swan Hill... Very little rainfall is expected and unfortunately, yet again, we are facing that dry lightning risk and are looking at potential gusty winds,” he said.

Victorian officials are concerned that three large fires will worsen in the deteriorating conditions.

In New South Wales, Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Rose Barr told SBS that a severe heatwave will start building over the next three days.

“Between Thursday and Saturday we are starting to see severe heatwave conditions in the southern parts of the state, extending over a more significant area of New South Wales into the weekend and next week... Some areas are forecast to reach extreme heatwave conditions,” she said.

“With the increasing heat and winds, the fire danger will worsen into the new week, with Monday and Tuesday most likely to be the most significant fire weather days.”