January 4, 2019 / 3:59 AM / 8 months ago

Heatwave wilts Australia's southeast, fanning fire, health concerns

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A heatwave sweeping Australia engulfed the densely-populated southeast on Friday, boosting temperature records, spurring fire bans and arousing concern about the health of contestants in this month’s tennis Open.

Children jump into the water off Altona pier in Melbourne, Australia January 4, 2019. AAP Image/David Crosling/via REUTERS

A week after Australia’s hottest town, in its northwest, recorded its hottest day, sweltering temperatures arrived on the other side of the continent, pushing the southeastern city of Melbourne to a near-record 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 F).

Regions to the north were expected to be hotter and windy, prompting a fireban across the second most populous state of Victoria.

Nine years earlier, Australia’s deadliest bushfires killed 180 people near cities forecast to experience temperatures of 46 C (115 F) on Friday.

“The conditions are there that if a fire was to start, it could be quite difficult to contain,” said Tom Delamotte, a Bureau of Meteorology forecaster.

Forecasters expected temperatures to cool later but the heat was likely to return soon after, Delamotte added, days ahead of the Jan. 14 start of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Tennis Australia, the sport’s governing body, says it has upgraded temperature testing at the Melbourne Park sports center and introduced a 10-minute break for the men’s singles.

It has also adopted a five-step “heat stress scale” that lets referees suspend play under extreme conditions.

In Hobart, capital of the nearby island state of Tasmania, which is usually the country’s coolest, the mercury rose as high as 40 C (104 F), two degrees from a January record.

Pictures on social media showed a striking dark-orange sky over Hobart as a bushfire swept the wilderness nearby. Campers were evacuated from the affected area, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said, though no injuries were reported.

The Tasmanian Fire Service was not immediately available for comment.

The city council of Shepparton, north of Melbourne, sent life guards to ask holidaymakers to avoid the direct sun at the city pool during January record temperatures of 45 C (113 F).

“Everyone knows it’s hot, but sometimes we forget the obvious things,” said Mayor Kim O’Keeffe.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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