SYDNEY - Scorching conditions have come early to parts of Australia, with an extreme fire danger warning issued for Sydney and emergency crews battling blazes across Tasmania and Queensland.
A record spell of September heat is baking southern states in temperatures up to 18 degrees Celsius above average.
About a dozen towns in the country's southeast have already broken longstanding September temperature records.
The spring heat has intensified the risk of bushfires.
Almost 70 blazes are burning across the state of New South Wales. Several are out of control. An extreme fire danger warning was issued Tuesday for Sydney and surrounding areas.
Emergency crews have fought fires on the city's suburban fringes. Flames threatened homes near the township of Wedderburn, 80 kilometers southwest of downtown Sydney. The outbreak was fueled by a combination of warm temperatures, strong winds and tinder-dry scrub and forest.
Jason Johnson, an incident controller with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service told reporters that conditions are challenging for crews.
"It is a very dangerous thing that we do, not only the fire, the heat that the guys have to deal with out on the ground, exhaustion. Obviously, they are all volunteers so they may be coming from work and actually going out and fighting the fires,' he said. 'We are looking at some very hot days over summer and we'll be prepared for whatever comes up for us."
The Bureau of Meteorology has officially declared that an El Nino is underway in Australia. The weather pattern is linked to hot, dry conditions that can increase the threat of wildfires.
At Wallacia, on the western outskirts of Sydney, firefighters and a helicopter spent much of Tuesday trying to control a blaze that came close to several properties.
Homeowner Steve Dunbar told local media that the flames were intense.
"It was raging, mate. It was really, really on fire. There was trucks everywhere, there was trucks all in this area here, the helicopter was bombing it. A lot of smoke, a lot of flames,' he said. 'We were just basically standing back waiting to protect the houses but it was worrying for a while, absolutely."
Cooler conditions Thursday have provided some relief, but many fires continue to burn.
Scientists have warned that climate change is making Australia more vulnerable to fires and other natural disasters.
The 2019-'20 'Black Summer' fires destroyed an area of land the size of the United Kingdom.