Australian wildfires: Country ravaged by fires as temperatures climb to record levels (PHOTOS)


This picture taken from Lake Conjola shows bathers looking on as smoke billows from a bushfire (back) at Deans Gap in New South Wales on January 8, 2013.


Rebecca Knowles

Australians sweltered under a record-breaking heatwave Tuesday that produced conditions described as "catastrophic" by the country's firefighting authorities. reported that the hottest place in Australia on Tuesday was Warburton, in the Northern Territory, which registered 47.2 degrees Celsius — about 117 degrees Fahrenheit).

Temperatures well into the 40s Celcius were also recorded in the states of South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland.

While residents of major cities were sweltering, many in rural areas were on red alert for the serious threat of bushfires fanned by high winds. Although 140 fires in NSW were burning out of control late Tuesday, wrote that there had been no reports of loss of life or homes.

Meanwhile, an uncontrolled fire was still burning in Tasmania, near areas already ravaged by blazes over the past week.

In NSW, Australia's most populous state, four areas were given a "catastrophic" fire danger rating, meaning that if fires broke out they would be uncontrollable — an indication that residents should evacuate, just in case.

A total state-wide fire ban was in place in NSW, and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) issued dozens of warnings.

The country's worst fires were reportedly in the south of NSW, near Cooma, Nowra, Bega and Wagga Wagga, according to The Australian.

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Fire crews in Victoria were also fighting a blaze, while Queensland was bracing for record-breaking temperatures and a major fire threat on Wednesday.

Fairfax media cited RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons as praising the "extraordinary" firefighting effort — involving nearly 1,500 firefighters working in "dirty, hot difficult conditions."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, meanwhile, urged residents to stay alert.

"The word catastrophic is being used for good reason. So it is very important that people keep themselves safe, that they listen to local authorities and local warnings. This is a very dangerous day."

More from GlobalPost: 'Dome of heat' covering Australia set to break records

Gillard also warned climate change may cause similar extreme weather in the future. 

“While you would not put any one event down to climate change … we do know that over time as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events,” she said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted conditions for extreme fire south-eastern would increase.

"Modeled climate projections show that much of southern Australia may become warmer and drier. This modeling suggests that, by 2020, extreme fire danger days in south-eastern Australia may occur 5 to 65 per cent more often than at present."