Fire-fighters battle blazes in scorching Australia


More than 250 fires were ignited by lightning strikes across southeast Australia overnight, officials said Wednesday, as fire-fighters battled to put out the flames and the country sweltered under a heatwave.
In Victoria state, where catastrophic firestorms claimed 173 lives and razed more than 2,000 homes in 2009, efforts focused on containing about 20 blazes.
A further 18 fires had already been brought under control or were being mopped up, and officials said no homes were currently under direct threat.
“Fire-fighters kept busy with 256 new fires started by lightning overnight,” Victoria’s Country Fire Authority said.
Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria have in recent days sweltered under temperatures reaching 46 degrees Celsius.
In neighbouring South Australia, the capital Adelaide experienced its fourth hottest day on record Tuesday, with a high of 45.1 degrees Celsius, and was again experiencing searing heat on Wednesday.
Fire-fighters faced horrendous conditions after hundreds of fires were sparked by lightning in the state on Tuesday, with more than a dozen blazes still burning Wednesday and aircraft water-bombing the worst-hit areas.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the heatwave was focused mainly over south-eastern Australia and had substantially subsided in the west, except for the northern areas including the resource-rich Pilbara region.
But severe conditions are forecast for south-eastern South Australia, southern New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
2013 was Australia’s warmest year since records began in 1910, and 2014 has begun with scorching conditions with more than 50 homes destroyed in bush fires in the western city of Perth on Monday.