Australian officials told householders in areas threatened by bushfires to flee their homes on Tuesday as temperatures continued to rise and outback winds fanned flames across the country.
"You don't get conditions worse than this," Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said on what was anticipated to be Sydney's third-hottest day for 150 years.
"We're at the catastrophic level and clearly in those areas, leaving early is your safest option," Fitzsimmons advised.
"I cannot say it more plainly: the risk is real and potentially deadly," Fitzsimmons said. "If you live in bushland or an isolated area where there is a catastrophic fire-danger rating, your only option is to leave early."
"The word catastrophic is being used for good reason," Prime Minister Julia Gillard also said, appealing to householders to follow orders. An automated telephone and texting service has contacted over a million people within the state of New South Wales urging them to leave.
According to research, most deaths in such circumstances happen when householders hold off evacuating until the last minute and get trapped in their cars trying to flee.
With temperatures soaring up to expected highs of 45 Celsius (110 Fahrenheit), and gusts of wind forming a "dome of heat" over the country, bushfires are raging in five out of Australia's six states.
Twenty one out of the 100 fires currently burning are uncontained, though none constitute an immediate threat.
New fires also broke out on Tuesday around southern New South Wales, Tasmania and around Canberra. National parks have been forced to close for the first time in history and campers have been told to go home.
sej/jm (dpa, AFP)