Heatwave halts Australian Open tennis matches

The BBC's Jon Donnison at the Australian Open: "Tennis courts like a sauna"

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Soaring temperatures have halted matches at the Australian Open tennis tournament, as a report warns that the country will see hotter heatwaves.

Melbourne, where the tournament is held, is seeing a third consecutive day of heat above 40C, with temperatures of 41.7C (107F) on Thursday.

Australia's Climate Council says in a report that the number of hot days in the country has "more than doubled".

2013 was recently declared Australia's hottest year on record.

The Climate Council report attributed the development to climate change, caused by greenhouse gases.

Fire bans are in place across the states of Victoria and South Australia, as firefighters battle bushfires.

In Victoria, several fire emergency warnings have been issued, as fires in the Northern Grampians area merged into one "out of control" bushfire and residents were urged to evacuated.

'Extreme heat policy'

Australian Open organisers said their extreme heat policy was in force, with matches on outside courts being suspended at the end of their sets.

Matches at Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena would continue with a closed roof, they said in a statement.

Play was scheduled to resume on outside courts at 18:00 local time (07:00 GMT).

A boy plays in the fountain in the scorching heat at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, 16 January 2014 Spectators have been feeling the heat at the Australian Open in Melbourne
Spectators cool off in front of a misting fan at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne 16 January 2014 Play on outside courts has been halted due to the hot weather
Camila Giorgi of Italy holds an ice towel to her face during her women's singles match against Alize Cornet of France at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne, 16 January 2014 Players held ice towels against their faces in an attempt to cool down

Tournament officials say temperature, wind direction and humidity are taken into account when implementing the extreme heat policy.

The announcement came mid-afternoon with the hottest part of the day approaching, the BBC's Jon Donnison in Melbourne reports.

On Tuesday, a tennis player and a ball boy fainted in the heat during the tournament. Organisers were criticised for allowing the tournament to continue.

Melbourne resident James Hickey told the BBC: "The past couple of nights have been insanely hot."

"In my suburb of Brunswick we lost power for about three hours on Tuesday night because it was so hot. The traffic lights were out, nobody could run their air conditioning or watch TV."

'A thousand fires'

Meanwhile, an interim report from the Climate Council said the number of heatwaves in Australia was "projected to increase significantly."

Fire crews have been tackling bushfires in the Northern Grampians area

"Both the duration and frequency of heatwaves" had increased between 1971 and 2008, it said.

"As greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, more heat is trapped in the lower atmosphere," the report added.

"This increases the likelihood that hot weather will occur and that heatwaves will become longer and more intense."

In the South Australian capital, Adelaide, temperatures were forecast to reach 46C, nearing the city's record of 46.1C.

Victoria Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said earlier on Thursday: "A thousand fires have been reported over the past 24 hours and 39 of those are still listed as going."

Matt Jerram filmed a dramatic lightning storm in Melbourne

South Australia fire services co-ordinator Leigh Miller said some firefighters had started to develop "heat exhaustion-type issues".

"Fighting fires in 40 odd degrees weather with little sleep is a real problem for us."

Forecasters say the extreme heat in much of south-eastern Australia is not expected to ease until the weekend, the BBC's Jon Donnison reports.

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