Parts of Australia’s east including Sydney recorded their hottest day in more than two years on Monday with temperatures hitting more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), raising the risk of bushfires.
Firefighters are working to contain nearly 40 bushfires across New South Wales, the home state of one-third of Australians, with crews on the ground supported by aircraft.
One fire near Mudgee, more than 250km (155 miles) northwest of Sydney, is at emergency warning level. Emergency crews urged residents there to seek shelter as it was too late to leave.
Total fire bans are now in place for multiple regions across most of New South Wales (NSW), while 35 public schools, mostly in inland regions, have been closed due to the severe heat.
“If a fire does start, it’s going to be burning under those difficult conditions… (it’s) harder for our firefighters to get around them, and fire can spread very quickly, particularly in grassland,” Angela Burford, operational officer at the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Dry thunderstorms are also possible across eastern NSW, leading to conditions that could see lightning ignite new fires, the Bureau of Meteorology said. The hot and dry conditions are likely to persist until Wednesday.
Penrith, a suburb in western Sydney, recorded 40.1 degrees Celsius on Monday afternoon – the hottest day since Jan 26, 2021 – while some inland towns reached nearly 41 degrees.
Australia’s east coast has been dominated by the La Nina weather phenomenon – typically associated with increased rainfall – over the last two years, which brought record rains and widespread flooding. In 2022, Sydney recorded its highest annual rainfall since records began in 1858.
But the weather bureau last week said its climate models suggest La Nina was “likely near its end” and neutral conditions, which is neither La Nina or its opposite El Nino, were likely to prevail through the southern hemisphere autumn.