More than 100 wildfires continued to engulf parts of eastern Australia on Thursday, and weather forecasts are causing concern that the situation is set to get worse.
The state of Victoria declared a state of disaster Thursday as Australia braces for scorching temperatures, strong winds and dry conditions into the weekend.
"This is not a decision we've taken lightly. But the dangers are real, and we need to act now," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Twitter.
A weeklong state of emergency is already in effect in the neighboring state of New South Wales, where more than 100 wildfires are burning.
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More than 12 million acres have been scorched, almost twice the size of New Jersey. At least 17 people, including three volunteer firefighters, have died since the fires broke out.
Images of the fires have circled the globe, many showing an orange glow in the sky as families fled to safer areas. Tens of thousands of people were being evacuated in New South Wales and Victoria, and the latest forecasts show that the situation isn't likely to improve any time soon.
Meteorologists expect soaring temperatures in southeastern Australia on Friday and into the weekend, with forecasts calling for heat above 104 degrees in some areas. With no rain and strong winds also expected, experts said, the conditions will be dangerous fuel for fires that are already unprecedented in their size and intensity.
"These fires are not just the worst in my living memory, but the worst in recorded history," said Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate scientist at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Perkins-Kirkpatrick said the fires broke out earlier than normal, consistent with research that has found that climate change is lengthening wildfire seasons around the world and intensifying blazes.
"We don't usually see fires like this until January or February, but these have been going on since spring," she said. "It's already the worst fire season on record, and we're really just in our first month of summer."
According to Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, January through November was the second-driest period on record since 1902. The organization said 2019 was also Australia's hottest year on record.