Australia sweats through heatwave, bushfire risk rated 'extreme'

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Large swaths of Australia on Sunday sweltered through a heatwave as authorities warned of elevated bushfire risk in an already high-risk fire season during an El Nino weather pattern.

The nation's weather forecaster had heatwave alerts in place for Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Western Australia, warning temperatures in some parts of the country could hit the low 40s Celsius (over 104 degrees Fahrenheit).

An El Nino is a climate pattern in which unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures are associated with phenomena such as cyclones, droughts, wildfires and heatwaves.

The high in the west of Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, was forecast at 39 C (102 F), almost 10 degrees above the February mean, forecaster data showed.

Hot and dry conditions combined with gusty winds prompted the forecaster to issue "extreme fire danger" warnings for parts of Victoria and South Australia states.

Sunday's hot weather - the latest in a string of heatwaves to scorch Australia - comes after the country's east was hit last month by damaging floods.

(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)