Western Australia on ‘extreme’ heatwave alert, raising bushfire risk

SYDNEY: Parts of Western Australia on Saturday (Jan 20) were set to swelter through an “extreme” heatwave, raising the risk of bushfires in the vast state, the nation’s weather forecaster said.

The Bureau of Meteorology on Saturday had an “extreme heatwave warning” in place for the remote Pilbara and Gascoyne areas of Australia’s largest state, warning temperatures there could hit high forties degrees Celsius on the weekend.

In the Pilbara mining town of Paraburdoo, about 1,500km north of state capital Perth, a maximum temperature of 47 degrees Celsius was forecast on Saturday, more than 6 degrees Celsius above the average January maximum, according to forecaster data. It was 35.5 degrees Celsius there at 7.30am.

The hot weather lifts the risk of bushfires in an already high-risk fire season amid an El Nino weather event, which is typically associated with extreme events such as wildfires, cyclones and droughts.

“Very hot and dry conditions combined with fresh southerly winds and a fresh to strong west to southwesterly sea breeze will lead to elevated fire dangers on Saturday,” the weather forecaster said on its website, regarding part of the Pilbara.

The warning comes after hundreds of firefighters earlier this month battled an out-of-control bushfire near Perth amid soaring temperatures, prompting evacuations.

Australia’s last two fire seasons have been subdued compared with the 2019-2020 “Black Summer” of bushfires that destroyed an area the size of Turkey, killed 33 people, three billion animals and trillions of invertebrates.

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