Schools and national parks close as Victoria faces worst bushfire conditions since black summer

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Hot, dry and windy conditions are forecast across Victoria with a catastrophic fire danger declared for parts of the state

Schools and national parks have been ordered to close as parts of Victoria face the first catastrophic fire conditions since the black summer of 2019-20.

Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia were also on alert for extreme fire danger amid heatwave conditions.

In Victoria, 38 schools and 17 early childhood centres have shut as hot and dry conditions were forecast, including winds of up to 100km/h, possible dry lightning and thunderstorms.

The hot northerly winds were already moving across the state on Tuesday morning, the Country Fire Authority’s chief officer, Jason Heffernan, told ABC TV.

He said hot conditions set in early, with the mercury reaching 29C in Mildura and 27C in Melbourne at 6am.

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A catastrophic fire danger rating had been declared for the Wimmera region, with authorities closely watching conditions in Rainbow, Warracknabeal, Minyip, Rupanyup and Murtoa.

“Those communities are of particular concern for firefighters today as conditions will be very, very nasty,” Heffernan said.

Extreme fire danger is forecast for the Mallee, a high danger rating for rest of the state except for East Gippsland and a total fire ban in much of the state.

Heffernan said it would be some of the most dangerous grassfire conditions since 2019-20.

The black summer was one of the most intense and catastrophic fire seasons on record in Australia.

“Grass fires can be just as deadly as bushfires during the 2019-20 season, they move incredibly fast and can jump roads,” he said.

Power providers also have crews on standby to respond to any outages caused by damage to poles and wires, the state’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, told reporters.

The emergency management commissioner, Rick Nugent, said Tuesday’s weather forecast, with some areas predicted to reach 40C, would be challenging.

“We’re going to have an extremely hot, dry and windy day … followed by thunderstorms and lightning,” Nugent said on Monday.

“We are doing everything possible to make sure we are well prepared to respond to any fires that may occur anywhere in the state.”

Tasmanians were also being urged to prepare for an increased fire danger over the coming days.

The Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) deputy chief officer, Matt Lowe, said current weather conditions combined with a dry landscape meant fires could spread easily and become difficult to control.

“TFS are putting a temporary hold on issuing fire permits in the south and north of the state until 2am Thursday,” he said on Monday.

“While we are not declaring a total fire ban, we are asking people to think carefully before lighting campfires and using machinery, and if doing so please be extremely cautious.”

South Australians were also bracing for a hot and dry Tuesday.

Total fire bans had been declared, with extreme fire danger ratings for mid north, Riverland and Murraylands.

The South Australian Country Fire Service said “very hazardous” fire weather conditions were predicted.

The Bureau of Meteorology had also issued a heatwave warning for parts of Victoria, with conditions expected to ease with a cooler change from late Tuesday night through early Wednesday morning.

A severe heatwave warning was also in place for parts of Western Australia including Kimberley, Gascoyne, Central West and Great Southern districts.