Crews in South Australia are battling to stabilize wildfires and protect homes as a hot weather forecast in coming days threatens to fan the flames.

Firefighters used planes from neighboring Victoria in an effort to gain control of the blaze that has destroyed or damaged 26 homes. The Country Fire Service warned temperatures would reach 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) on Jan. 7 before cooling, while the Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe.

“We’ve got some dangerous weather approaching,” Premier Jay Weatherill said in the state capital Adelaide. “The fact I’m not here talking about deaths is a good thing, but we’ve got a bit of a way to go before I think we can relax.”

The blazes have left 29 people injured or hospitalized and destroyed the biggest stretch of bush since 1983, when 75 people in South Australia and neighboring Victoria were killed in what became known as the Ash Wednesday fires. Australia’s hot, dry climate makes wildfires a significant risk throughout the southern hemisphere’s summer.

CFS Chief Officer Greg Nettleton said the next flash point was likely in two days, when winds could whip around amid high temperatures.

Fire Zone Islands

Crews are currently “securing the outer perimeter of the fire”, he said, and “what we call the islands that are contained within the larger fire perimeter.”

While local crews are “making progress,” interstate firefighters are being flown in for deployment Jan. 7, Nettleton said. “Our intention is to put as much as we possibly can into the fire affected area, so when the weather comes through on Wednesday we’ve got lots of resources there.”

Firefighters are currently opening access roads to allow people to return to their homes during the lull in the weather, he said.

Climate change is increasing Australia’s fire threat, with the season starting earlier and lasting longer in South Australia, according to a report by the Climate Council, an Australian nonprofit organization.

In February 2009, bushfires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed 150 homes in the worst blazes in Australian history.

The Insurance Council of Australia said claims by affected property owners would be given priority.

The federal government also announced assistance for people affected by the bushfires.

Topics Catastrophe Natural Disasters Wildfire Australia