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Severe Australian heat wave to worsen as fires break out

SYDNEY--Australians sweltering through a severe heat wave were warned Thursday that the worst is yet to come, with hundreds of fires raging in several states and temperatures nearing record highs.

Most of southeast Australia has been sizzling in a heat wave that triggered a devastating wildfire on the west coast, razing 55 homes and claiming one life on Sunday.

The mercury has soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for successive days in South Australia and there is a total ban on recreational fires in neighboring Victoria where players at the Australian Open fainted and vomited in blistering conditions.

Play was halted on Thursday afternoon due to the extreme heat, and a Melbourne school gardener, aged 76, died after collapsing on Wednesday in the grounds.

Commuters were urged to leave work early to ease peak-hour pressure on trains and trams, with the heat expected to cause significant delays and a wild evening hailstorm forecast.

Health officials in South Australia said 129 people had presented to hospital in the past three days with heat exhaustion and dehydration.

In Victoria state, currently experiencing its longest stretch of hot days since 1908, there were 109 cases and ambulance services reported almost double the average number of call-outs for heart attacks.

Wildfires raged across both states, with South Australia's Country Fire Service saying there were some 800 blazes of concern and an “escalating fire pattern over the next 48 hours,” with total fire bans across the state from Friday.

“We may be reaching quite a dangerous phase in this heat wave and it's important that people are well aware of those risks,” said state premier Jay Weatherill.

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