SYDNEY • Official weather forecasts for Australia out yesterday showed no substantial rain for at least three months, providing grim news as firefighters battle to get more than 100 bush fires raging across the east coast under control.
Wildfires in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland states have killed four people, destroyed hundreds of homes and wiped out one million hectares of farmland and bush over the past week.
The fires have been fuelled by tinder-dry conditions after three years of drought that experts say has been exacerbated by climate change, a factor that has sparked a sharp political debate.
Firefighters have said the blazes will burn for weeks without significant rainfall.
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said there is just a 25 per cent chance that the country's east coast will receive average rainfall between Dec 1 and Feb 28 next year.
And, stoking the threat, there is a more than 80 per cent chance that temperatures will exceed average levels over the next three months.
Rural Fire Service NSW deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said fatigued firefighters face another challenging few days. He told Australia's Channel 7: "Conditions are starting to warm up tomorrow, into the weekend and then heating up early next week, a return to more gusty conditions. We're in for the long haul."
The death toll from the fires rose to four yesterday after police said the body of a man was discovered in bushland ravaged by fire.
Bush fires are common in Australia's hot, dry summers, but the ferocity and early arrival of the fires in the southern spring this year have caught many by surprise.
The bush fires have created mounting pressure on the conservative government to curb fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia's leaders, ever-conscious of the country's economic reliance on mining exports, have been steadfastly ignoring those calls.