As the Arctic freeze sweeps Britain, a record-breaking heatwave in Australia has claimed the lives of 37 people and sparked bushfiresthat have destroyed 29 homes.
South Australia and Victoria have been the worst affected, enduring six consecutive days of temperatures reaching 113F (45C).
The extreme conditions in Melbourne caused an electricity substation to explode, shutting down the city’s train network, trapping people in lifts and resulting in thousands of people being treated for heat exhaustion.
Authorities said the unrelenting heat has been linked to at least 37 deaths, most of them elderly people. They are warning of more deaths as the stifling summer temperatures continue.
The worst heatwave in a century has been blamed for a series of bushfires raging across the country. In the Latrobe Valley, east of Melbourne, a blaze destroyed 29 homes last weekend.
Firefighters in Victoria were continuing to battle more than 600 separate blazes last night, many of them suspected to have been deliberately lit.
The Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, warned that the country was currently a “tinder box” and expressed sympathy for victims of the crisis and their families.
“This is a very, very dangerous time of the year,” he said.
Many Melbourne residents fled the city last weekend, seeking refuge in Sydney where the temperature was a much cooler 86F (30C).
The weather bureau says the crisis is set to reach Sydney by the end of the week, with the mercury forecast to hit 108F (42C).
The South Australia premier, Mike Rann, said the extreme weather has matched a record set in 1908.
“Not for 100 years has it been more than six days of 40 degrees or more,” said Matt Collopy, from the South Australian Weather Bureau.
Melbourne recorded its third consecutive day of temperatures above 109F (43C) on Friday, the first time since record-keeping began in 1855.