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Temperatures fall in blistering Australia

TEMPERATURES in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Adelaide fell yesterday after days of searing heat in the densely populated southwest region that has been blamed for a spate of sudden deaths.

A major bush fire burning to the east of Melbourne has been brought largely under control after consuming more than 6,000 hectares, as had another in southern New South Wales state, firefighters said.

"Our workload has dropped off significantly from midnight, when the cool breezes came through," an ambulance spokeswoman in South Australia state said.

Dubbed a "once in a century" event by the local media, the heat wave has been blamed for a series of deaths in Adelaide and Melbourne and has disrupted power supplies, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes in darkness.

As of Saturday, at least 28 "sudden deaths" over two days had been reported in South Australia state. Authorities in Victoria state have also blamed several deaths there on the heat. Sudden deaths are those where the victims are found dead when ambulance officers arrive, and authorities said the total number of deaths due to the heat could well be higher.

Health officials have called for residents to keep an eye on elderly friends and relatives and ensure that they drink plenty of water. Fire bans remain in place for much of the country.

After days of temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius, Bureau of Meteorology data showed that temperatures in Melbourne and Adelaide had slipped into the 30s.

Fruit growers in South Australia and Victoria are battling to save crops. But so far the extreme hot weather has remained in southern Australia and has not moved north toward the country's main wheat and sugar crops.

Many of the fires that raged this week have been blamed on arsonists, despite the widespread ordering of fire bans which make it illegal to start a fire in the open.

The Australian Institute of Criminology said in a report that approximately half of all bush fires in the country were deliberately lit.


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