Jan 8, 2013 / 9:37 pm
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 on Monday with a nationwide average of 40.33 degrees Celsius (104.59 degrees Fahrenheit), narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 40.17C (104.31F).
Tuesday was the third hottest day at 40.11C (104.20F). Four of Australia's hottest 10 days on record have been in 2013.
"There's little doubt that this is a very, very extreme heat wave event," Bureau of Meteorology manager of climate monitoring and prediction David Jones said.
"If you look at its extent, its duration, its intensity, it is arguably the most significant in Australia's history," he added.
With Wednesday's cool-down in southern Australia, the national capital, Canberra, dropped from a high of 36C (97F) on Tuesday to 28C (82F) and Sydney dropped from 43C (109F) to 23C (73F).
Jones expected that Wednesday would also rank among Australia's hottest days when the national temperatures are calculated. That's because the extreme heat has shifted from the heavier populated south to northern and central Australia.
The bureau forecast above average temperatures for the remainder of summer, compounding the fire danger created by a lack of rain across central and southern Australia over the past six months.
"It is going to be very challenging," Jones said of the wildfire danger.
North of Victoria in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, firefighters were battling 141 fires, including 31 that had not yet been contained.
Fires have burnt through more than 131,000 hectares (324,000 acres) of forest and farmland since Tuesday.
The fires have been most devastating in Tasmania where at least 128 homes have been destroyed since Friday.
Hundreds of people remain at two evacuation centres in the state's south, as fires continue to burn more than 80,000 hectares since last week.
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