Fires are burning at least two states, while others have issued total fire bans as a wave of heat moves east across the country.
Friday was the first of several days in a worrying heatwave that will last well into next week and prompted warnings from health and emergency authorities.
The scorching weekend heatwave is expected to bring widespread elevated fire risks not seen in eastern Australia since last summer’s devastating bushfires.
By Friday afternoon, South Australia’s Country Fire Service had issued an emergency warning for a bushfire at Templers, in the Barossa Valley north of Adelaide.
The CFS said the grass fire was burning towards Roseworthy, Freeling and Lyndoch and was a potential threat to lives.
Crews worked to complete control lines around the fire and motorists had been asked to avoid the area. The warning was later downgraded to an advice.
Temperatures across SA soared on Friday, hitting 40 degrees in Adelaide and pushing into the mid-40s in some regional centres. It had already hit 44.6 in Roseworthy by the time the CFS issued its warning.
Gusty winds were also causing concern for firefighters.
The CFS declared an extreme bushfire risk for the Adelaide Hills on Friday.
In Queensland, holidaymakers were being asked to stay away from Fraser Island as authorities struggled to control a large bushfire that is expected to spread as hot, windy conditions arrive in the Sunshine State in coming days.
Reinforcements were being sent to help consolidate control lines across the island ahead of an expected unfavourable wind change.
The fire, which was started from an illegal campfire on October 15, has burnt through 72,000 hectares of land on the World Heritage-listed island.
Rural fire service area director Michael Koch said the wind was due to switch from a southerly to a northerly on Sunday, potentially turning the fire towards communities on the island’s eastern side.
“At this stage there is no threat to communities [but] having more people on the island creates more of a challenge for firefighting operations,” Mr Koch said.
In Victoria, temperatures rose on Friday afternoon as the Country Fire Authority declared a total fire ban for three regional areas on Saturday.
“The Mallee District will reach an extreme fire danger rating for the first time this season due to the forecasted gusty winds and increased grassland curing in the area,” CFA acting chief officer Alen Slijepcevic said.
“Northern Country and Wimmera will also experience elevated dangerous fire conditions, with a severe fire danger rating.”
Mildura could break its November temperature record with a top of 45 degrees forecast for Saturday. Its previous record for the month was 45.5 in 2012.
Also on the Murray, Swan Hill is forecast to hit 44 degrees and Echuca is expecting 42.
The fire danger is expected to keep moving east, with Saturday tipped to be the day of highest danger in NSW.
The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted extreme heatwave conditions for much of the state. Temperatures will top 40 degrees across the west and in coastal areas, and move nearer 50 in some central areas.
NSW Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Peter McKechnie has urged people to have a fire plan ready and prepare their properties.
“This is the first time since the devastating season last year we’ve seen widespread elevated fire danger,” he said on Friday.
“Know what to do if a fire threatens you, know where you’ll go.”
The NSW south-west will experience the worst of the fire conditions on Saturday, before the scorching weather moves through Sydney, the Hunter Region and north coast on Sunday.
Mr McKechnie said grassland areas west of the Blue Mountain ranges were of particular concern, as were the windy conditions.
“These are dangerous conditions, fires will start easily and they’ll spread very quickly,” he said.
Last summer’s bushfires destroyed 2476 homes, claimed 26 lives and burned 5.5 million hectares of land.
Sydney is forecast to hit 39 degrees on Sunday, while some records are expected to be broken in western NSW. Crowds flocked to city beaches on Friday as the city began to warm up.
A cooler gusty change is tipped to cross the state on Sunday and into Monday, but temperatures are expected to rise again on Tuesday.
The cool front is likely to pick up dust which could reach Canberra, the BOM says.
NSW Health wants people to take extra precautions before the heatwave and check on vulnerable friends and family, particularly the elderly, to make sure they’re coping.
“Our bodies are not acclimatised to the heat just yet as we enter summer. The heat we’ll see over the weekend will affect everyone,” NSW Health’s Dr Adi Vyas said.
He said people keeping cool in public areas like shopping centres and libraries would have to maintain social distancing.
“This is a COVID pandemic year, so there’s a few things we might have to do differently,” Dr Vyas said.