10 Feb 2017

Bushfire warning as Australian temperatures soar

5:39 pm on 10 February 2017

Vast swathes of Australia are in the grip of a heatwave, and authorities are warning of catastrophic fire conditions for the ACT, New South Wales and South Australia that could get even worse over the weekend.

Temperatures have soared above 40 degrees in some Australian states as a heatwave grips the country.

Temperatures have soared above 40° in some Australian states as a heatwave grips the country. Photo: AFP

Firefighters are expecting dangerous fire conditions across many parts of New South Wales, with temperatures in the high 30s and mid-40s expected over the next few days.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts the area of temperatures reaching 45°C or hotter to be roughly the size of New South Wales today and tomorrow, with a slightly smaller area on Sunday.

Today's hottest temperature is expected in the western NSW town of Hay, where the mercury is set to hit 47°. The nearby township of Ivanhoe is forecast to be hotter tomorrow at 48°.

Residents have been warned to prepare for extreme temperatures over the next three days that have the potential to break records.

Bushfire conditions worst in four years

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said bushfire conditions would be the worst they had been in four years, with total fire bans in place in the Southern Ranges, Southern Slopes and Southern Riverina areas.

The state is bracing for record power demand, Utilities Minister Don Harwin said, with peak usage expected between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, during which there may be a shortfall.

In the ACT emergency services have taken the unusual step of issuing a 48-hour total fire ban ahead of Canberra reaching an expected 41° two days in a row.

The predicted top temperatures could go close to becoming Canberra's hottest days ever, a record that has not been touched since 1968 when it reached 42.2° at the airport.

Authorities have warned they may also be forced to switch off electricity in parts of Canberra.

South Australia is forecast to be among the hottest states, with Adelaide forecast for a top of 39° today and the north pastoral districts well into the 40s - are being magnified by power outages and uncertain power supply.

Load shedding during extreme heat on Wednesday night resulted in 90,000 customers losing electricity supply.

The State government said it was planning a dramatic intervention in the electricity market but has not yet gone into detail about what this means.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the extreme heatwave was moving through the southern parts of South Australia and much of Victoria, while spreading further east into New South Wales' coastal regions and south-west Queensland.

In northern Victoria, temperatures were tipped to soar to 44°.

South-east Queenslanders are in for a steamy few days, with temperatures rising 7° to 10° above average across the region and through inland towns.

On Saturday, it will be 36° in Brisbane and 39° at Ipswich, rising to 39° in Brisbane on Sunday and 42° at Ipswich.

Stay inside to avoid heat

Energy Queensland spokesman Peter Price said despite the hot weather power outages, like those which caused blackouts in South Australia, were unlikely in Queensland.

"We experienced peak demand in south-east Queensland in late January - on the 18th - and the network performed really well through the peak demand," he said.

"On that day when we had the peak demand, we also had 1000 megawatts of solar generating throughout the day, so I am not expecting any problems on the weekend."

NSW Health has urged people to stay out of the heat as much as possible and ensure they stay well hydrated, especially though the hottest parts of the day.

"Drink plenty of fluids, that [do not] involve alcohol or caffeine. Water is best," the department's Ben Scully said.

"If you have air-conditioning it's great to use it, otherwise keep your house cool by drawing the blinds and shutting the windows."

In contrast, Perth and Western Australia's south-west has been hit by torrential rain, causing widespread flooding and power blackouts.

Perth has recorded more than 106 millimetres of rain since 9.00am on Thursday, making it the second wettest February day on record.

A tropical low which formed off the Pilbara coast earlier this week before dumping more than 200mm of rain on Karratha is responsible for the wild weather.