Milder Temperatures Ease Australian Wildfire Fears
COOMA, Australia -- Record temperatures across southern Australia cooled Wednesday, reducing the danger from scores of raging wildfires but likely bringing only a brief reprieve from the summer's extreme heat and fire risk.
Australia had its hottest day on record Monday with a nationwide average of 40.33 degrees Celsius (104.59 degrees Fahrenheit), narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 40.17 C (104.31 F). Tuesday was the third hottest day at 40.11 C (104.20 F). Four of Australia's hottest 10 days on record have been in 2013.
Cooler conditions brought relief to firefighters, who were battling around 200 fires across Australia's southeast, and gave them the chance to build earth breaks to try to contain the blazes. The risk from fire was expected to increase later in the week as temperatures again rise.
No deaths have been reported from the wildfires, although around 100 people haven't been accounted for since last week when a blaze destroyed around 90 homes in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart. On Wednesday, police spokeswoman Lisa Stingel said it was likely most of those people simply haven't checked in with officials.
The U.S. government announced on Tuesday that 2012 had been the United States' hottest year on record.
A brutal combination of a widespread drought linked to a La Nina weather event and a mostly absent winter pushed the average annual U.S. temperature last year up 0.6 C (1.08 F) above the previous record set in 1998 to 12.96 C (55.32 F).
The same La Nina brought flooding rains to much of Australia in the cool first half of 2012. The second half was dry and hot, ending the year with a daily temperature 0.11 C (0.2 F) above the daily average of 21.81 C (71.26 F).