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Australia Wildfires Set to Worsen as Dry Storms, Heat, Wind Hit

Michael Heath

(Bloomberg) -- Wildfires ravaging Australia’s parched east and west coasts are set to worsen as lightning strikes from dry storms combine with rising temperatures and winds to aggravate conditions for firefighters already struggling with more than 100 blazes.

Fifty-six fires were burning in New South Wales as of Sunday morning with 27 yet to be contained, the state Rural Fire Service said. In Queensland, the Darling Downs and Granite Belt regions face extreme danger, with about 70 fires across the state.

“We’re saying to those people in the firing line, particularly in Queensland and northern New South Wales, to act accordingly, to plan and to prepare to get out,” David Littleproud, a Federal government minister whose portfolio includes drought and natural disasters, said Sunday. “We’re expecting the winds to pick up later today and obviously that will intensify with the dry fuel load.”

Four people have been killed and more than 300 homes razed in New South Wales, while an estimated 2.5 million acres of farmland and bush have burned in what have been early and extraordinarily fierce wildfires for the southern hemisphere’s spring. That’s sparked debate on whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison is doing enough to curb emissions and whether climate change is worsening the fire season in what is already the world’s driest inhabited continent.

Hottest Day

Western Australia declared catastrophic fire ratings for some districts Sunday after the state capital, Perth, had its hottest November day since records began in 1897, with the temperature reaching 40.4 degrees (104.7) Fahrenheit on Saturday.

Back on the east coast, the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a severe heatwave for the second half of the week over the New South Wales ranges, slopes, central west and the Australian Capital Territory, the region including Canberra.

“Crews overnight undertook backburning behind properties due to forecast elevated fire dangers today,” the New South Wales RFS said. Backburning is where fires are deliberately lit and controlled to clear dry undergrowth.

Littleproud told Sky News that dry storms overnight saw lightning strikes start fires in Queensland and said he had “grave concerns” about more of them predicted in the afternoon. A dry storm produces thunder and lightning, but most or all of its precipitation evaporates before reaching the ground.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net, Nicholas Reynolds, Virginia Van Natta

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