Fire crews are struggling to keep up as flames rage across the country with six states facing severe bushfire danger Thursday.
Still more than a week out from the start of summer, Australia is facing an unprecedented fire threat, and authorities are worried about the ability of emergency responders to deal with the large number of blazes.
"Over the years, the number of fires we have had pre-Christmas is increasing," Victoria's former Country Fire Authority Neil Bibby told AAP on Thursday, noting a worrying gap in resources.
"The timing of the fires that authorities use equipment (for) is being affected.
"Normally we would have fires in Queensland, then those resources would be moved down to NSW and Victoria."
Mr Bibby, who was in charge during Victoria's devastating Black Saturday, said Victoria's fire season normally starts in January, not November.
His dire warning comes as temperatures soar in parts of the country as crews continue to battle dangerous flames in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
"We have had a horrible fire season starting very early. To have fires in Queensland, NSW, South Australia and ... Victoria, it is just unprecedented," he said.
Meanwhile parts of Tasmania’s east coast and midlands are facing extreme bushfire ratings and there has been a catastrophic fire warning issued for the southern interior parts of Western Australia, AAP reported.
As a result, all six Australian states are simultaneously on high fire alert.
Victoria ‘code red’ as Melbourne tops 40C
Out-of-control bushfires are raging in central parts of the Victoria as strong winds pick up, causing a regional town to turn orange in a haze of dust.
The state's highest bushfire warning - code red - has been issued for central and northwestern parts of the state on Thursday.
An out-of-control bushfire in Bonn and Strathallan was threatening homes, with residents told it is too late to leave. It is in the area declared code red.
"You are in danger, act now to protect yourself. It is too late to leave. The safest option is to take shelter indoors immediately," the warning states.
Temperatures tipped into the 40s across some parts of the state, with Swan Hill just shy of 44C and Mildura at 40.6C, but winds are still ripping through.
Melbourne matched its hottest November day on record, hitting 40.9C.
Speaking to media on Thursday afternoon, senior research scientist at the Bureau of Meteorology Kevin Tory said conditions were unprecedented.
“I think almost 30 years being a meteorologist, I can't remember a day like this in November to affect Victoria, certainly not Melbourne,” he said.
He said a hot air mass over the state was exacerbating fire conditions earlier in the day.
“The overnight minimum was 26 degrees so that's pretty close to a record. We would have to go back to I think 1901 when the highest overnight minimum was recorded, if you get your head around that, which was 26.2 degrees, so we went shy of a record to start the day off.”
Swan Hill in the state’s northwest hit 43.6 degrees while other areas in the state registered temperatures between 41 and 42 degrees.
A cool wind change sweeping the state has reduced the fire threat, but due to the strong winds authorities also warned about the danger of thunderstorm asthma on Thursday afternoon.
“The wind change and the thunderstorm activity will move through eastern Victoria as we head into the evening. One of the concerns about the thunderstorm activity is thunderstorm asthma,” Mr Tory said.
A thick haze of earth-red dust has blanketed Mildura on Thursday, with locals saying the thick dust has become the norm when winds take hold, given the drought conditions.
Pictures shared to social media show a heavy orange hue hanging over the country town.
More than 80,000 customers are without power in the western part of the state, with Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat hardest hit, service provider Powercor said. Crews were responding to more than 22 fallen powerlines, and 130-plus separate faults.
Big guns called in for South Australia
A monster Boeing 737 water bomber was called in to fight out of control blazes in South Australia on Thursday as the state faced catastrophic bushfire conditions for a second day in a row.
A fire in Yorke Peninsula was burning out of control but authorities were confident of containing the blaze.
#Bushfire Advice Message : Issued for #STANSBURY_ROAD,_YORKETOWN #fire. If you are in this area stay alert, monitor local conditions and decide what you will do if the situation changes. #BAM ID=0003359 #SAFires https://t.co/2cuNvdX2pa pic.twitter.com/M7RjGQW4cz— Country Fire Service (@CFSAlerts) November 21, 2019
As of Thursday afternoon, the major fire in the state was not yet contained but under current weather conditions, it is no longer rapidly expanding, the Adelaide Advertiser reported. Locals in the area are urged to monitor alerts.
Early on Thursday afternoon, the Country Fire Service downgraded alerts for Edithburgh, Seven Roads and Troubridge Point, warning residents to continue to monitor conditions.
On Wednesday, 33 people were injured and towns evacuated. Some 11 properties have been affected by the fires, but the full extent of the destruction is still unknown.
More than 600 homes now lost in NSW
The number of homes confirmed destroyed this bushfire season in NSW has risen to more than 600, the Rural Fire Service says, as firefighters battle some 50 blazes still burning across the state.
As more hot, dry and windy conditions led to severe fire danger ratings on Thursday and blanketed much of Sydney in a smoky haze, the RFS revealed a total of 612 homes have been lost to date.
The fires have also claimed six lives this bushfire season.
In the past fortnight 503 homes have been destroyed and 178 damaged while more than 1300 outbuildings have been damaged or destroyed, the RFS said. Almost 8000 buildings have been saved.
A thick haze also covered Sydney and the NSW coast on Thursday morning as a northeasterly breeze dragged smoke towards the city.
People with chronic respiratory or heart conditions were warned to stay indoors.
"If you do develop symptoms and they don't get better with your normal reliever medication you should seek medical advice and in an emergency you should call triple zero," Dr Richard Broome, director of environmental health at NSW Ministry of Health, said.
Some 50 bushfires are still burning in NSW, 20 of which are uncontained. More than 1000 firefighters remain in the field.
There are 12 total fire bans in place across the state.
Several fires were upgraded to watch and act level on Thursday afternoon, including the 164,000-hectare blaze at Gospers Mountain northwest of Sydney and the out-of-control bushfire in Bora Ridge, south of Casino.
Queensland wildlife bear the brunt of extreme conditions
Record numbers of native animals are being treated at Queensland wildlife hospitals as a result of the drought and bushfire crisis gripping the state.
The number of sick, injured and orphaned animals being treated at the Australia Zoo hospital are at their highest in a decade.
The extremely busy period is expected to continue given the ongoing destruction of habitat and a prolonged period of severe weather, said Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital director Dr Rosie Booth.
"On average, we see anywhere between 500 and 700 native animals requiring treatment at the start of trauma season, but this year has been extremely concerning with over 1100 animals in just one month," Dr Booth said on Thursday.
"The number of patients we admitted in September this year is almost double the number that we treated in September 2009."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.