Energy supplier flicks the switch on power amid concerns about rising heat and threat of bushfires

The summer months are often typified by long afternoons at the beach or with friends, as people shake off their winter woolies and replace them with bathers and sunscreen.

But in many parts of Australia the end of spring also marks the start of bushfire season and extreme weather conditions.

In South Australia and parts of Victoria residents are being asked to stay indoors, avoid the sun's rays and stay out of harm's way due to a heatwave that is passing through the area and fire warnings in four key districts.

Prime minister Julia Gillard has urged residents to make common sense decisions when it comes to fire warnings and heed expert advice.

"There are a lot of emergency workers who are on high alert today due to the extreme weather conditions in parts of Australia and the extreme heat," she said.

In some communities power blackouts have even taken place in an attempt by electricity suppliers to prevent fires.

And while some residents complained about the decision to turn off power along certain grid-lines, it seems that power companies are defending their choice of action.

"In the case yesterday, we had had a situation where the fire conditions were escalating, very strong winds and we had reports through the CFS (Country Fire Service) of trees down, and that can cause a major problem in bringing down electrical infrastructure," asserted Electricity Trust of South Australia spokesperson Paul Roberts.

Local representatives, however, have questioned the company's communication techniques, arguing that some communities had their power switched off without warning.

Alarm bells have also been raised by homeowners due to a number of small fires starting, as a result of overheated air-conditioning units.

Shelley Roylance, a spokesperson for the SA Metropolitan Fire Service, said local firefighters had answered more than 300 calls from residents relating to the cooling units.

"We don't discourage people from using them but we ask that they turn them off every 24 hours to let them cool down," she said.

"They need cleaning every summer, not in the middle of a heat wave, and they critically need time to cool down."

In some cases, alternative cooling methods such as drawn blinds and cold drinks may help residents cope with the conditions.

It is also important to make sure that flammable objects including sticks, long grass and leaves are kept away from living areas.

Posted by Charlie Moore