CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Three homes were destroyed by a forest fire and a man was injured by a falling tree in the Bega Valley region of southeastern Australia, prompting a government leader to warn on Wednesday that a “horror” wildfire season was approaching.
Scores of wildfires have recently raged across the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania as Australia’s driest September on record and unusually warm weather have brought an early start to the annual wildfire season, which peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer.
Three homes were destroyed Tuesday night by a fire that threatened several Bega Valley communities and razed more than 5,200 hectares (12,800 acres). A man aged in his 40s was taken to a hospital in stable condition after a tree fell on his car on Wednesday morning, officials said.
Widespread rain across Australia’s southeast eased the fire danger on Wednesday and brought flood warnings to parts of Victoria.
New South Wales Premier Chris Minns said firefighters in the Bega Valley, 420 kilometers (260 miles) south of the state capital Sydney, had had a “hellish 24 hours.”
Although it was early spring in Australia, much of New South Wales has been experiencing mid-summer conditions for days at a time, Minns said.
“Be prepared. Be prepared for a horror summer,” Minns told reporters during an inspection of the fire zone with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
The Rural Fire Service said the Bega Valley fire had yet to be contained by late Wednesday, but was no longer threatening lives or property.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Rob Rogers said property losses in the Bega Valley could have been far higher without the efforts of hundreds of firefighters.
“The fire season is absolutely here and we need to take this seriously,” Rogers told reporters.
Three years ago, the Bega Valley lost more than 400 homes during the catastrophic Black Summer fires of 2019-20.
Experts predict the approaching wildfire season will be the most destructive since the fires that summer killed 33 people, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed 19 million hectares (47 million acres).
Those fires culminated in 2019, which was Australia’s hottest and driest year on second.
Three successive La Nina weather patterns since then have brought wetter and milder summers. But a current El Nino weather event is bringing hotter and drier conditions to Australia’s populous southeast.
South of the New South Wales border, residents of eastern Victoria communities were told on Wednesday to evacuate their homes because of the flood risk from rising rivers.
A day earlier, some of the same communities had been threatened by wildfires.
Heavy rain on Wednesday was forecast to continue across Victoria on Thursday.