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Wildfires and Deaths as Southeast Australia Bakes in Record Heat


Southeastern Australia has endured some of the hottest temperatures in a century, which have fanned fires that have destroyed homes and strained emergency power and transport services. At least 20 people may have died from heat stroke as temperatures soared past 46 degrees Celsius in some areas for a third consecutive day. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses are without electricity.

More than a dozen homes have been lost as bushfires burn across parts of the southern Australian state of Victoria.

The flames have been fuelled by a vicious cocktail of strong winds, low humidity and scorching temperatures. It's thought some outbreaks have been started deliberately by arsonists.

Residents in the fire zone have felt the sheer brutality of nature. "It's probably a little like a war zone without the bullets," said a resident.

"A big fire ball ripped through," said another one. "It's burned down our neighbour's house. It started to burn down our house and my husband got out of there. He went back this morning and nearly everything, all the houses are gone."

Towns and cities across southeastern Australia including Adelaide have sweltered in furnace-like conditions.

An explosion at an electrical substation in Melbourne saw the rail network fall into chaos and power was lost to 500,000 homes and businesses.

To make matters worse, railway lines have buckled as temperatures reached record highs, leaving commuters stranded.

Authorities fear that several elderly people may have died due to the heat wave, after 22 "sudden deaths" in Adelaide on Friday. Autopsies will determine whether the victims' fatal heart attacks and strokes were related to the heat.

Officials have advised people to drink plenty of water, stay indoors and refrain from consuming alcohol and taking part in strenuous exercise.

The scorching weather has played havoc with the Australian Open Tennis Tournament, with several tennis stars forced to retire in the exhausting conditions.

The unusual warm spell has been caused by a high pressure system over the Tasman Sea that is pushing warm and dry northerly winds over the southeastern corner of the Australian continent.

Although temperatures have eased slightly in the last 24 hours, the region's hottest period since 1908 seems set to continue. More unpleasantly hot weather is forecast in the week ahead.

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