New South Wales has recorded temperatures up to 16°C (60°F) above the September average in recent days.
Authorities in southeast Australia have issued a “total fire ban” amid an unusual September heatwave that sent temperatures soaring.
The fire ban, the first in three years, comes as the state of New South Wales (NSW) records temperatures up to 16C above the September average.
Temperatures in Sydney, Australia’s most populous city, reached 34.4°C (93.9°F) on Tuesday, just below the all-time high of 34.6°C (94.3°F) in September, established in 1965.
Some 61 bushfires were reported across New South Wales as of Tuesday morning, with 13 still to be contained, authorities said.
“Due to stronger than expected winds along the far south coast, a catastrophic fire risk is expected in the region this afternoon,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a statement.
“These are the most dangerous conditions for a fire.”
Forecasters say temperatures are expected to remain high on Wednesday, with strong winds creating some of the riskiest bushfire conditions since late 2019, when fires swept through southeastern Australia, killing native animals and destroying vast expanses of forest and thousands of rural houses.
“We’re having a tough few days and we need the community to be very vigilant,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Rob Rogers told Nine’s Today.
Twenty-one schools in New South Wales, mainly along the state’s south coast, have been closed due to fire risk.
Sydney Harbor was shrouded in smoke last week as firefighters on the city’s outskirts set controlled fires to try to limit the risk of bushfires ahead of what is expected to be a hot summer and dry in the southern hemisphere.
Forecasters said there was a high chance of an El Nino event, which usually causes drier conditions in Australia.
The Bureau of Meteorology has warned that the phenomenon could develop in the coming months and cause extreme weather events ranging from wildfires to cyclones and droughts.
The September heatwave is expected to end with the arrival of a cold front on Wednesday, when temperatures fall below 20°C.
Since the end of the so-called Black Summer bushfires in March 2020, Australia has experienced a series of wetter and cooler summers.