The Two-Way
11:30 am
Tue January 8, 2013

As Australia Faces Catastrophic Fires, Forecasters Chart Record Heatwave

Originally published on Tue January 8, 2013 9:22 am

Thousands of acres are burning in one of Australia's worst fire seasons ever. Firefighters are deployed in the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, notes the Sydney Times Herald. About 140 fires are burning, and some of them aren't contained.

The fires are driven by heat so intense that Australian weather forecasters had to change the colors they use on their temperature charts to reflect the baking heat. The Times Herald says forecasters added deep purple to indicate temperatures in excess of 50 C, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology says the heat wave will last "well into next week". The Bureau warns Australia has a lot of dried underbrush that could fuel more bushfires, worsened by hot, gusty winds.

The country is experiencing the hottest days ever recorded. Before that, the weather agency says the last four months in Australia were 'abnormally hot'. But it got worse: "To date (data up to the 7 January 2013) the national area-average for each of the first 7 days of 2013 has been in the top 20 hottest days on record." This is the first time this has happened.

There are no reports of deaths on the Australian mainland. But terrible bushfires on Tasmania, the southern island state, have left 100 people missing, says the Associated Press. A blaze scorched a small town east of Hobart, the state capital, destroying about 90 homes. Authorities who checked the wreckage didn't find any bodies, and it's unclear where the missing people are.

To locate them, the Red Cross is asking people to register with its registration and inquiry program.

It's a scary situation for Australians, who remember 'Black Saturday', in February, 2009, when bushfires killed 173 in Victoria state during a dry summer, notes Businessweek.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.