SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Extreme heat and high winds fanned dozens of bushfires across Australia on Friday, prompting hundreds to flee their homes in some of the worst conditions seen since Black Saturday in 2009.
One person died in the Grampians bushland in the southeastern state of Victoria, about 300 kms west of Melbourne, where bushfires are burning out of control amid temperatures which have hit above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees F), destroying or damaging houses.
Victoria was the hardest hit, with 70 bushfires burning out of control. Dozens of blazes are burning in South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.
Authorities have issued seven emergency warnings to severely affected areas, prompting hundreds of residents to flee their homes.
Victoria Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said conditions were "up there" as the worst since the Black Saturday fires that killed 173 people in 2009.
Mr Lapsley said the 21,000-hectare fire in the Grampians bushland was so intense it had "created its own weather", triggering lightning and spot fires.
Strong wind changes and thunderstorms forecast for later Friday could exacerbate conditions, he said.
"There is a stronger southernly wind expected to come through there tonight and that could create worse conditions for the fire and cause it to spread further," a spokesman for Victoria's Country Fire Authority told Reuters.
Australia's south and southeast have been in the grip of a heatwave for nearly a week, with climate experts warning of even longer and hotter heatwaves to come, raising questions about its long-term position as an agricultural powerhouse.