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Australia just had its hottest day on record, and it's getting hotter

Bushfires closing in on areas north of Sydney

Sydney — Australia this week experienced its hottest day on record and the heatwave is expected to worsen, exacerbating an already unprecedented bushfire season, authorities said Wednesday. The average nationwide temperatures of 105.6 degrees on Tuesday beat the previous record of 104.5 degrees in January 2013, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

"This heat will only intensify further today," meteorologist Diana Eadie Said.

Parts of the eastern state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, were forecast to reach around 110 Fahrenheit on Thursday. On Saturday parts of Sydney are forecast to tip over 115 degrees.

It was so hot Tuesday in Perth, in Australia's far west, that one man decided to demonstrate the danger of leaving people or pets in closed vehicles by roasting a 3-pound piece of pork, just by leaving it in his car.

Heat fuels anger, too

The heatwave is another alarm bell about global warming in Australia, where this year's early and intense start to regular summer bushfires has heaped pressure on the Australian government to do more to tackle climate change.

The fires have sparked climate protests targeting the conservative government, which has resisted pressure to address the root causes of global warming in order to protect the country's lucrative coal export industry.

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Demonstrators participate in a climate protest rally in Sydney, December 15, 2019. WENDELL TEODORO/GETTY

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week made a rare admission that climate change was one of the "factors" behind the fires.

But he defended the government's record on emissions reduction and failed to announce further measures to address the issue.

Climate protesters plan to march on Morrison's official residence in Sydney this week to rally for change and highlight his absence as large parts of the country burn.

Morrison is holidaying at an undisclosed location overseas.

"Challenged with a new threat"

Hundreds of bushfires have been raging across Australia for months, including a "mega-blaze" burning north of Sydney, the country's biggest city.

Smoke from the fires has engulfed Sydney, raising air pollution to levels so hazardous that leading doctors have labelled the event a "public health emergency." At least 7.4 million acres of land has been torched across Australia, with six people killed and about 700 homes destroyed.

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A firefighter douses a bushfire in Dargan, about 80 miles northwest of Sydney on December 18, 2019. SAEED KHAN/Getty

The fires have also ravaged koala bear habitats, leading to dramatic rescue efforts to save the iconic marsupials. Hundreds have been killed. 

Scientists say the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought that has left the land tinder dry and many towns running out of water.

Turbulent winds of up to 60 miles an hour are forecast to also hit the east coast at the same time and worsen the blazes.

"Over the next few days we are going to see firefighters, the emergency services and all those communities close to fires... challenged with a new threat," New South Wales fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Wednesday. Embers carried by the winds can travel almost 20 miles from a blaze, authorities said.

"We are going to have a number of fronts that are going to fuel, or escalate the fires burning, but also the potential to have spot fires and embers travelling very long distances," NSW Premier Gladys Berejinklian warned.

Bushfires turn world's attention to plight of koalas in Australia

On Wednesday police evacuated residents from dozens of homes in the coastal area of Peregian near the popular tourist hotspot if Noosa in the northeastern state of Queensland, as an out of control fire threatened properties. 

"Fire crews and waterbombing aircraft are working to contain the fire but firefighters may not be able to protect every property," Queensland Fire and Emergency services said.

"You should not expect a firefighter at your door. Queensland Police Service are door knocking in the area. Power, water, and mobile phone service may be lost."

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