Although winter rain and snow have snuffed out wildfires in the U.S., the opposite is happening down under: Summer heat is baking Australia, and dangerous wildfires are raging. One hundred fires are currently burning in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state—and the state government has declared a seven-day state of emergency, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“With extreme wind conditions, extreme hot temperatures, we have a good idea, a good sense, of where the most concerning areas are,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters. “but again when you’ve got those turbulent conditions, embers and spot fires can occur very unpredictably.”
About 2,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and half of the fires are uncontrolled. Besides burning land and homes, the fires are also sending huge plumes of smoke into the air, creating hazardous air quality for Sydney’s 5.2 million residents. Hospitals have seen a 10 percent uptick in patients visiting with respiratory issues, according to the Times.
The new state of emergency is just the latest development in what has already been a difficult wildfire season in Australia. Roughly 7.4 million acres of land have been burned across Australia over the past few months, leading to the destruction of 800 homes and six deaths. New South Wales also declared a state of emergency for seven days last month during a period of “catastrophic” fire risk—the first such declaration since 2013.
Incredibly high temperatures aren’t helping the situation. Sydney hit 102 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, with even higher temps in the suburbs. Tuesday was the hottest day on record in Australia, with an average temperature of 105.6, the Times reports.
Hot, dry weather throughout the country has made conditions ripe for wildfires. According to a report from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, rainfall was well below average or even the lowest on record for much of Australia between January and August of this year. In addition, daytime temperatures were well above average or the highest on record across much of Australia during the spring. In fact, it was the driest spring ever recorded in the country, with rainfall at a stunning 62 percent below average. This caused soil and vegetation to dry out and become more likely to burn, especially around New South Wales.
“By the start of September 2019,” the report states, “much of eastern Australia was primed for high fire danger ratings.”
But New South Wales isn’t the only place facing the threat of wildfires. According to the report, every state and territory in the country saw “dangerous fire weather conditions” in October and November of this year.
And if this dry spell continues, the fires likely will, too.
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