Cool change brings relief for Australia

01:25, Jan 19 2013
Tasmaniabush fire
A fire at Tasmania's Forcett, 30km from Hobart, sends smoke over Park Beach.
Tasmaniabush fire
Fire burning near Dodges Ferry, a small town in south eastern Tasmania.
Tasmaniabush fire
The settlement of Dunalley, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart, was one of the worst hit by the Tasmanian bush fires.
Tasmaniabush fire
Police Rescue Helicopter crewman Matthew Drumm looks out at the destruction.
Australia heatwave 2013
Exercise groups train at sunrise to beat the heat on Sydney's Bronte Beach as temperatures are expected to reach record highs.
Australia heatwave 2013
Water bombing at Oura, near Wagga Wagga. New South Wales faces its worst fire risk with temperatures predicted to hit the mid to high 40s.
Australia heatwave 2013
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons (C) at the State Operation Centre.
Australian heat
Kutchani, a female lion, eats a frozen milk iceblock at Sydney's Taronga Zoo.
Australian heatwave
Smoke rises from the Yarrabin bushfire burning out of control near Cooma, south of Canberra.
Australia heatwave
A bush fire burning near Cooma, south of Canberra.
clothesline
Singed clothes hang from a clothesline in a backyard affected by a bushfire at Boomer Bay, about 40 kilometres east of Hobart.
Australia heatwave
Fire crossing Princes Highway at Deans Gap fire in Shoalhaven, southern NSW.
Australia heatwave
A deserted petrol station, close to a fire south west of Wandandian, NSW.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews tackle a deliberately lit bushfire near Bidwill in Sydney's west.
Australia heatwave
Carngham Station, in Victoria, was destroyed in the state's bushfires.
Australia heatwave
A fireman working on flames near Ballarat, Victoria.
Australia heatwave
NSW Rural Fire Service crews water-bombing fires at Bungendore.
Australia heatwave
'Mopping-up" spot fires at Sandhills in Bungendore, Australia.
Australia fires
An aerial photo of the fire threatening the Siding Springs Observatory.
Australia fires
The fire moves in on the observatory in Siding Springs, in rural NSW.
Australia fires
The Siding Spring Observatory the morning after the fire swept through.
Australia fires
Several buildings at the Siding Spring Observatory were damaged.
Australia bushfires
A fire danger sign on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne gives a grim warning to locals.
NSW fire at Coonabarabran
Fire burns alongside the Newell Highway near Coonabarabran, about 350km northwest of Sydney.
Australia bush fires
A children's playground destroyed by the massive bushfire in rural New South Wales.
Australia bush fires
Robina and Felicity Otrupcek standing in front of Robina's home that was water-bombed and remained unscathed as fire burnt through the New South Wales property.
Australia bush fires
The changed landscape of Baradine Road at Coonabarabran, which was hit by one of New South Wales' worst bushfires in history.
victoria bush fires
Trying to keep cool at the Big Day Out in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Crowds at Wanda Beach as temperatures begin to fall in Sydney.
victoria bush fires
Swimmers and sun bathers at Victoria Park Pool, in Sydney's Glebe.
victoria bush fires
Sydneysiders cool off in Botany Bay near Yarra Bay.
victoria bush fires
Frantic efforts to damp down properties as the fire approaches.
victoria bush fires
Firefighers battling a bushfire in Aberdare, New South Wales.
Ku-Ring-Gai
A fire burns in Ku-Ring-Gai National Park, north of Sydney.

About 50 firefighters are battling a  bushfire burning out of control near properties in Sydney’s north.

Cooler temperatures were hoped to bring some relief to fire crews in Australia a day after Sydney sweated through its hottest day ever.

But NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said a 200-hectare fire was burning at Lovett Bay in the Ku-ring-gai national park on the outskirts of the city.

An RFS spokesman told AAP this afternoon the fire was burning near properties but was not a direct  threat to any of them.

He said there were no mandatory evacuations being carried out  but campers at The Basin camping ground in the national park had  been advised to leave.

They were being transported out by ferry because West Head Road  was closed, he said.

The cause of the fire was unknown, the RFS said. Motorists were being advised to avoid the area.

On its website, the RFS said firefighters were working to  establish containment lines. Smoke was covering Terrey Hills, the northern beaches and north shore.

SYDNEY STRUGGLES IN THE HEAT

The mercury topped 45.8 degrees Celsius at Sydney's Observatory Hill at 2.55pm (4.55pm NZT) yesterday, breaking the previous record set in 1939 by half a degree. The city's highest temperature was a scorching 46.5C, recorded in Penrith, while Camden, Richmond and Sydney Airport all reached 46.4C.

More than 220 people had been treated for heat exposure or fainting by late afternoon, the Ambulance Service of NSW said.

The heatwave also stranded thousands of commuters, with dozens of trains delayed as steel wires buckled and a hose used to run a key signalling system melted. On the central coast, the heat caused an overhead wire to buckle onto a train, trapping about 250 passengers for half an hour.

Serious fires raged across NSW and Victoria, where a man was found dead in a burning vehicle in Seaton, 200 kilometres east of Melbourne.

Firefighters said the conditions were ''as bad as it can get'' and feared it could take weeks to contain one fire, which has burnt more than 48,000 hectares in Gippsland.

Heyfield incident controller Bill Johnstone said the fire could continue for days or even weeks.

''We're still experiencing some dynamic fire behaviour. The conditions are deteriorating,'' Johnstone said.

''It's a very dangerous environment we're experiencing ... it's probably as bad as it can get.''

The conditions in NSW were also hellish, firefighters said.

''This has made for very difficult conditions and there are a lot of very active fires. There has not been the cloud cover we expected,'' said the commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons.

As temperatures cooled and the southerly approached, lightning strikes sparked multiple small fires across the state, adding further stress to the fire fighting effort.

Even as thousands of front-line personnel battled the flames, the nation's peak emergency body - the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council - lodged a Senate inquiry submission warning of worse to come.

The capacity of fire and emergency services to respond to major natural disasters will need to be increased if extreme weather events become more frequent and intense due to climate change, its submission to an inquiry into extreme weather events said.

The heatwave was moving north today, with northern New South Wales and Queensland going on fire alert.

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