CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Dozens of wildfires were burning out of control in heat wave conditions across southern Australia on Friday, killing at least one resident.
Fire authorities said 68 fires were burning across Victoria state and another 16 were blazing across neighboring South Australia state.
Both states have endured several days of temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), with winds intensifying the fire risk as they gather pace on Friday.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay said one person died at home at Roses Gap in the Grampians region, northwest of the state capital of Melbourne.
He said the death was fire-related, but provided no other details.
Lay said that 12 of the fires burning across Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, have been deliberately lit. Arson detectives are investigating.
Victoria Fire Commissioner Craig Lapsley said a blaze burning over 21,000 hectares (52,000 acres) of woodland near the Grampians generated a 12 kilometer- (7 mile-) high convection column — a column of rising hot air — that was triggering lightning and sparking spot fires.
Residents in the region had been advised to evacuate their homes, but several people decided to stay and protect their properties, Lapsley said.
“They have a right to do so … but they also take on that risk themselves,” Lapsley said. “They risk the fact that these fires will be very intense and erratic this afternoon.”
Fire conditions in Victoria are at their worst since 2009, when wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.