Asia Minute: Australia Tormented by Fires, Record Heat

Dec 19, 2019

This has been another week of heat, drought and fire in many parts of Australia — including the country’s largest city, Sydney. This morning local time, the top government official in the state of New South Wales declared a state of emergency, and temperatures may be on their way to another record.

The Premier of New South Wales has declared a state of emergency that will last at least a week because of what she called “catastrophic weather conditions.”

Authorities say about a hundred fires have been going for weeks now, burning through more than 11,500 square miles — nearly twice the land mass of the state of Hawai’i. Some 2,000 firefighters are working to contain the flames – that includes teams from the United States and Canada as well as the Australian Defense Force.

Another 500 are standing by if needed.

At least six people have died, nearly 200 homes have been destroyed, and the counts continue.

Temperatures have broken records, and may set new ones as soon as today. On Tuesday, the average nationwide temperature across Australia peaked at the equivalent of 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

That is the average national temperature.

In the western suburbs of Sydney, the heat has pushed past 45 degrees Celsius — the equivalent of 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Some residents evacuated because of the fires — others were told it was too late to leave.

Air quality remains a concern in the Sydney area and elsewhere, but wind speeds and direction remain uncertain.

The Premier said, “the biggest concern for us over the next few days is the unpredictability.”