24 February 2024
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A heatwave scorched Australia’s eastern coast and sent temperatures in Sydney to a three-year high on Saturday as firefighters battled dozens of runaway fires.

Many people crowded Sydney’s beaches or sought relief in the shade and authorities warned the most vulnerable — including the elderly and very young — to shelter in cool buildings.

Sydney city centre’s Observatory Hill weather station reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the early afternoon — the hottest since November 2020, according to weather bureau data.

In Richmond on Sydney’s far western fringes, the thermometer crept up to 42.7C (108.9F).

“Today, with the high heat levels, I do say that it’s a time to ensure that we look after each other and stay safe,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a news conference.

“Climate change is a threat to people’s health as well as to our environment and we need to acknowledge there’s a need for a comprehensive response.”

More than 70 bushfires and grass fires were burning across New South Wales — 29 of them still out of control, the state’s rural fire service said in a statement.

“With very hot, dry and windy conditions, and total fire bans in place, know your risk and what you will do if threatened by fire,” it said.

Temperatures across much of New South Wales would be up to 10C above average, the Bureau of Meteorology said, though cooler conditions were forecast for the evening.

‘Take breaks from dancing’

Weekend heatwave alerts were issued for much of the state.

The weather bureau urged vulnerable people including infants and the elderly to use fans and air conditioners or seek cool spots in libraries, community centres and shopping centres.

State health authorities urged people attending music festivals to protect themselves, with thousands expected at an event in western Sydney’s Olympic Park.

“Make sure you take breaks from dancing, seek shade when you can, drink water regularly, wear sun protection,” NSW Health said in a message on social media.

“Make use of festival-provided shade, water stations and misting fans.”

After several wet years, experts are expecting Australia’s summer to bring the most intense bushfire season since 2019-2020.

During that “Black Summer”, bushfires raged across Australia’s eastern seaboard, razing swathes of forest, killing millions of animals and blanketing cities in noxious smoke.

Australia’s weather bureau confirmed in September that an El Nino weather pattern is underway, bringing hotter and drier conditions.

Australia is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of gas and coal, two key fossil fuels that are blamed for global heating.

Under Albanese’s centre-left government, the country has vowed to cut carbon emissions by 43 percent before 2030, when compared to 2005 levels.

Abdul Gh Lone