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Milder temperatures ease Australian wildfire fears

By The Associated Press

This article was published January 9, 2013 at 7:06 a.m.

— 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 104.59 degrees Fahrenheit, narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 104.31 F.

Tuesday was the third-hottest day at 104.20 F. 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,” said David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology.

“If you look at its extent, its duration, its intensity, it is arguably the most significant in Australia’s history,” he added.

Cooler conditions brought relief to firefighters, who were battling about 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 about 100 people haven’t been accounted for since last week when a blaze destroyed about 90 homes in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital, Hobart.

On Wednesday, police spokesman Lisa Stingel said it was likely most of those people simply haven’t checked in with officials.

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