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Dunedin was the hottest place to be at lunchtime, recording the highest temperature in the country on 31.9C, while Oamaru was the coolest on just 20.9C.
Fire crews are on standby today as scorching temperatures and high winds raise the fire risk in the drought-ravaged region to extreme levels.
Despite the approaching storm on the West Coast, temperatures are set to soar on parts of the east where Dunedin and Timaru are expecting 34C, and Oamaru and Twizel could reach a sweltering 30C and higher.
Firefighters and helicopters are on standby across the tinder-dry Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes as temperatures in the 30s, rising winds and low humidity levels push the fire risk to extreme levels.
Contractors, tradespeople and farmers have been asked to postpone any activities involving machinery including mowers, grinders, saws, tractors and anything else that could generate a spark or heat.
Those who work in rural or semi-rural areas are being told to take every precaution and keep an extinguisher, hose or buckets of water close at hand.
Fire and Emergency New Zealand has set up a regional incident management team in Clyde - one of three across Otago and Southland.
Clyde-based incident controller Jamie Cowan said the fire risk was "well above what we consider to be extreme" as gusty northerlies ramped up across throughout the day.
Fire and Emergency said all indices would spike today to extreme, meaning all fires would start and spread quickly and be difficult to control and mop up.
It comes as fire chiefs warn New Zealanders will likely see more wildfires in the future and needed to start thinking like Australians and adapt lifestyles to take into account the looming threat.
Fire and Emergency chief executive Rhys Jones said climate change meant New Zealand was likely to see more fires like last year's Port Hills blazes.
"We need to be prepared. It's important now, more than ever, we work together and do everything we can to be prepared," he said.
"The Port Hills fires have reinforced we must respond early and respond heavily. We are here to save lives, and property if we can, so it's crucial we respond in this way."
Two fires broke out in Canterbury's Port Hills on February 13 last year and merged before burning through 1600ha and claiming nine homes and damaging five others. It took 66 days before it was declared fully extinguished.
MetService figures show Dunedin and Queenstown have recorded higher monthly averages for January and many other Otago towns are expected to follow.
MetService meteorologist Tom Adams said it was almost certain other towns in Otago would better their average monthly temperature once their data was collated early next month.
Clyde reached 37.6C and Middlemarch a fraction under on 37.4C - their hottest ever temperatures yesterday.
Clyde's high was the eighth-hottest temperature recorded by Niwa in New Zealand for January, and Middlemarch's high was the 10th.
Yesterday the Government extended the drought to include Queenstown Lakes, Central Otago and Clutha districts and Southland.
The drought was originally classified as a medium-scale adverse event in the North Island across Taranaki, western parts of Manawatu-Whanganui and Wellington, and the Grey and Buller districts of the South Island's West Coast over Christmas.