Extreme heat and strong winds stoke Australian bushfires

Environment

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Firefighters in the northern Australian state of Queensland battled more than 100 bushfires on Sunday, as temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F) in parts of the drought-hit state.

Local resident Jeanette Schwindt inspects her destroyed shed and water tanks after a bushfire swept through the area at Mount Larcom, located west of the township of Gladstone in Queensland, Australia, November 29, 2018. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS/File Photo

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the extreme heat, along with strong westerly winds, had created severe bushfire conditions in much of the mining and agricultural state which are not expected to ease until Tuesday.

“Those really warm temperatures combined with the strong winds is what’s leading to the fire danger spiking today,” Harry Clark, a meteorologist with the weather bureau, told Reuters.

Clark said the conditions were “extremely unusual” for Queensland at this time of year and the unfavorable weather was unlikely to start to improve until Tuesday.

Wildfires have now been burning for more than a week in some parts of the state and firefighters from across Australia have been called in to help contain the blazes, the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said.

The only fire-related death occurred on Friday night in the town of Rolleston when a tree fell on a 21-year-old man who was attempting to clear a firebreak.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the fires had destroyed more than 527,000 hectares of land across the state.

“There are people out there, they are exhausted, they are fighting the good fight for their community, for their districts and their lives, and they’ll continue to do that,” McCormack told reporters in Mackay, a town more than 900 km (559 miles) north of the state capital, Brisbane.

Parts of Australia’s east coast are also in the grip of a sustained drought which has decimated wheat crops.

Sugarcane is also a major crop for the state. Some 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of sugarcane farms near Mackay had been burned, but it was not expected to hurt the 2018 harvest, a spokeswoman for the Queensland Cane Growers Organisation said.

“It won’t affect the 2018 harvest at all because the areas that are impacted have finished harvesting,” the spokeswoman told Reuters.

Reporting by Will Ziebell in MELBOURNE; editing by Darren Schuettler

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