Fire and ambulance crews are on standby, emergency departments briefed and the public urged to take measures to stay cool, with the mercury predicted to hit 41 degrees later in the week as an intense heat wave sweeps across southern Australia.
The ACT Government has enacted its Extreme Heat Plan, with the weather bureau forecasting week of 39-plus maximums, with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday expected to be 41, 40 and 41 degrees and no relief until Saturday, which is tipped to be a relatively cool 30 degrees.
Extra ambulance crews have been rostered during the heat of the day, and Rural Fire Service volunteers, along with Parks and Conservation and Fire and Rescue crews, are at the ready with the ACT under a Very High fire rating.
Acting Chief Health Officer Kerryn Coleman said the predicted high overnight temperatures added to the concern.
“I think that’s what makes a heat wave quite problematic for us, and why we’re particularly concerned about this particular period of time when the heat does not go down in the evenings. There is no opportunity for houses and people to cool off,” she said.
She and ACT Ambulance Service Chief Officer Howard Wren both stressed the risk to vulnerable people such as the elderly, babies, children under five, pregnant mothers, and those with chronic illness.
Dr Coleman said people needed to stay hydrated, stay cool and look after these vulnerable community members.
She urged the community to drink lots of water, stay inside during the hottest hours of the day and if one has to be outside, stay in the shade as much as possible.
If at home, stay in front of a fan or in the air conditioning, and if the house is too hot find relief at a public facility such as a library, community centre, or shopping mall, or see a movie.
Symptoms of heat stress to be aware of included nausea, dizziness and vomiting.
Mr Wren warned that in these conditions children and pets should never be left in vehicles, even for only a very short time.
He said the length of this hot spell made it a particularly challenging.
“Generally we only see several days, two to three days of extreme heat as a rule, so it is unusual to have five days predicted. We’re hoping we don’t see an increase in presentations but we’re prepared,” he said.
Mr Wren also repeated warnings to those seeking respite in the ACT’s lakes and rivers to take care.
“Clearly there have been some tragic events across the country. Be very careful, where you swim, don’t go out of your depth if you’re not a good swimmer, and make sure someone is supervising children closely. If you have been drinking, that is not the ideal time to go swimming,” he said.
RFS Chief Officer Joe Murphy said that while it might look green in the countryside after some recent rain, underlying large forest fuels were still very dry and grass growth was taking off.
He said that fortunately the wind was not expected to get up until Friday but any fire in this week’s conditions would be very hard to control. “We don’t want to be out there putting out fires,” he said.
He would not rule out a total fire ban, with the ACT’s fire rating reviewed daily.
With last year’s Pierces Creek seared into the memory, Mr Murphy said he remained concerned about the possibility of a car fire igniting a blaze.
“Let’s be very clear, there are idiots out there who light cars deliberately on fire. Stop it. That’s my clear message. We don’t need fires like these in the bush area, or the urban area,” he said.
He also urged people to postpone any work involving machinery, such as grinding, welding, and slashing.
“All it takes is one spark off one of those activities to get a fire going,” he said.
He urged Canberrans, if they had not done so, to download the Bushfire Survival Plan from the ESA website.
For more tips on beating the heat, click here.