BRISBANE – Australians have been asked to heed safety advice from authorities as much of the country swelters through what is already shaping up to be a record-breaking heatwave.

In the southern states, firefighters battled hundreds of blazes in searing heat and ambulance officers treated children who had been left in cars.

On January 1, Adelaide recorded its hottest start to a new year since 1900 when the mercury reached 41.6 degrees.

Extreme temperatures and strong winds prompted a South Australian power company to cut electricity supplies to about 3300 properties on the Fleurieu Peninsula on Monday.

The decision left many tourism-related businesses without power for several hours, prompting criticism over the lack of notice.

But ETSA Utilities defended the decision, raising concerns about potential bushfires.

Victoria’s ambulance service treated 45 patients for heat-related illnesses on Monday, including four cases of children left in cars. Paramedic Darren Murphy said there was a case reported every five minutes.

”We’ve gone to patients who are nearly 100 years old, they live at home alone, wearing heavy clothes, they have an air conditioner but they’re not using it for whatever reason,” Mr Murphy said.

”We’ve gone to people who are in their mid-30s, who have been working outside all day, were drinking (water) but just not drinking enough and then we’ve also gone to young children who have either been at the beach or they’ve been left in their cars for short periods, who have been heat-affected as well.”

South-west Queensland councils directed their warnings at tourists, advising motorists to carry extra water and petrol.

”We’re expecting just shy of 44 degrees today, and even hotter on Wednesday and Thursday,” Diamantina Shire Council’s Steve Baldwin said. He said there were some minor benefits of oppressive heat, such as drying clothes more quickly and enjoying a cold beer in an air conditioned pub.

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