Life on the land in Australia


Twin bushfires

rage out of control

in Perth suburbs

February 6, 2011

Perth fire destroys 40 homes

Fires burned out-of-control for most of yesterday in Perth, destroying more than 40 homes.

A spark from an angle grinder is believed to have caused one of the most devastating bushfires in Perth’s history, which has already claimed dozens of homes and forced hundreds to evacuate.

The WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority has confirmed at least 42 homes, sheds and carports have already been destroyed, while a further 19 properties have been damaged by the flames that have engulfed 440 hectares in the south-east suburbs of Roleystone and Kelmscott.

Homes destroyed by bushfire in Roleystone.Homes destroyed by bushfire in Roleystone. Photo: Courtesy Channel Ten

The Buckingham Bridge on Brookton Highway has also collapsed after being consumed by the out-of-control blaze, and it is expected to be impassable for up to three weeks. Western Power has advised more than 1600 customers had been left without power, either through damage or after supplies were cut for public safety reasons.

Meanwhile, a separate bushfire has forced more than 100 people to evacuate in the Swan Valley suburbs of Brigadoon, Baskerville, Millendon, Red Hill and Herne Hill. Damage has been restricted to two sheds, a water tank and some fencing, but more than 1160 hectares of bushland have been scorched.

WA Premier Colin Barnett has declared the Roleystone fire a natural disaster, opening up extra state and federal funding to help with the recovery effort.

A Roleystone home is engulfed by a bushfire.A Roleystone home is engulfed by a bushfire. Photo: Courtesy Channel Ten

He also announced immediate short-term grants of $3000 to each person who had lost a home and $1000 to each person whose property suffered extensive damage, to help them through the coming days. The City of Perth Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund has also launched the Perth Hills Bushfire appeal for the community to donate to those affected by the fire

Mr Barnett praised fire authorities and the sensible and responsible actions of residents in fleeing the area early.

“A result of that good sense and proper management of this serious fire is that there has been no loss of life and that’s something we should all be thankful for,” Mr Barnett said.

Bushfire has destroyed up to 20 homes in Roleystone, according to reports.Bushfire has destroyed up to 20 homes in Roleystone, according to reports. Photo: Courtesy Channel Ten

FESA rural operations coordinator Mal Cronstedt said the fire fight was still very intense in the Roleystone area, with the blaze having entered urban areas where bushland meets the suburbs.

More than 100 firefighters and 50 trucks were tackling the blaze, with reinforcements called in from as far as Albany and Geraldton. Mr Cronstedt said authorities were still unsure when residents would be allowed to return to their properties to inspect damage.

“It’s far too early to tell how soon we can let residents back into the area,” he said. “It’s far too unsafe to allow people to return to an area where they might find themselves in significant danger.”

Dozens of houses in Perth's east have been reduced to rubble by the savage fire. Photo: Nic Shields via Twitter

Blaze rips through north-east Perth

Dozens of houses in Perth’s east have been reduced to rubble by the savage fire. Photo: Nic Shields via Twitter

FESA incident controller Gary Kennedy said while the fire was contained on several fronts, there was a real threat it could take off again, due to strong easterly winds.

“While it may look like it’s pretty pleasant out there it isn’t,” he said. “Power poles are dropping all over the place, as are trees. It’s extremely dangerous for our operations staff, let alone residents.”

Police Superintendent Daryl Thornton warned police would arrest anyone trying to re-enter the fire area until it was given the all-clear by fire crews.

View Hills bushfires in a larger map

FESA chief operations officer Craig Hynes said the number of destroyed properties may well increase once a proper survey of the area could be completed.

One firefighter has been injured and remains in hospital in a stable condition after being hit by a fire truck near Roleystone. At least 12 people have been hospitalised with smoke inhalation

Both blazes deemed accidental

Fire investigators have dispelled fears of arson, saying they have confirmed the Roleystone blaze was accidentally lit by a person operating an angle grinder while undertaking metalwork.

FESA, police and power investigators have confirmed the Swan Valley blaze had been caused by a tree branch falling on to electrical infrastructure during the strong winds.

FESA regional coordinator John McMillan said the fire services were 100 per cent committed to fighting the fires, but crews were tiring after the protracted battle.

“At the moment we have assessment teams out in the field, assessing the structures that have been impacted,” he told ABC radio.

“We haven’t had loss of life. We are grateful for that but certainly there’s a lot of trauma that goes with it.”

Mr McMillan said neither of two big fires outside Perth were under control, and unpredictable and strong winds were expected this morning.

“Our struggle will remain until we get some respite in these unusual weather conditions,” he said.

“It’s just the strength of the easterly winds. They were at damaging strength two days ago and they have maintained the consistency.”

Strong winds fan flames

The fires were fuelled through the night by hot and gusty easterly winds, reaching up to 75km/h, and the Bureau of Meteorology has warned conditions are unlikely to ease before midday today.

Mr Hynes said FESA was warned by the Bureau to expect “remarkable winds” over the weekend, and had prepared for the extreme conditions.

“We weren’t surprised that the wind strengths were gusting at up to 75km/h. Last night we got a little bit of a reprieve, they probably peaked at around 50 to 60km/h,” Mr Hynes said. “We are expecting those winds to ease at around 12 o’clock today.”

A fire weather warning is still in force, with conditions conducive to the rapid spread of fire. The Bureau has warned that if a fire takes hold, it will be unpredictable, move very fast and be difficult for firefighters to bring under control

The winds are so strong FESA was yesterday forced to ground two fixed-wing water bombing aircraft, with conditions too unsafe for them to join the fight.

These aircraft have taken to the skies above Roleystone today, joined by two large Type-1 helicopters and other support helitacs. Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson said another two Type-1 helicopters were being transported from Victoria and would be joining the fire fight tomorrow.

In Roleystone, the army of career and volunteer firefighters has been joined by specialist Country Fire Authority officers from Victoria, who operated during the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. Another 100 firefighters have been deployed to the Swan Valley blaze.

‘The sky was bright red’

Denise and Lorry Cole were among those watching the Swan Valley fire’s progress down a bush-clad ridge from a police roadblock, unable to return until given the all-clear.

They packed their toy poodle Monty, pet parrot Livingstone, photos and documents into their car and left their Padbury Avenue property in Herne Hill after midnight when authorities advised that an evacuation would be taking place.

“The sky was bright red and sometimes you could see the flames, the wind was really gusty,” Ms Cole said.

“The guys are doing their best. We’re ex-army so we take these things in our stride.”

The Coles got no sleep overnight but said they were glad of coffee at the relocation centre, where some evacuated residents turned up with horses in horse floats.

At the relocation centre in Roleystone, retired couple Dave and Carole Locke arrived with their cat Daisy in a box along with photographs and other cherished possessions.

“When the phone rang and they said, ‘Get out’, we got out,” Mr Locke said.

Warnings and road closures – Roleystone

A bushfire emergency warning is still in place for people in the south western part of Roleystone and south eastern part of Kelmscott.

FESA has warned homes will be impacted by the fire in Kelmscott between Carmichael Place, Nugent Close, Cockram Road, Ciro Road, Turner Road, Canning Mills Road, Bromfield Road, Hill Road and Brookton Highway to Albany Highway.

Properties in Roleystone affected are between Urch Road, Peet Road, Brookton Highway and Old Coach Place.

People who have not already left have been instructed to leave immediately for a safer place and take a survival kit with them. If people cannot leave, they have been warned to shelter in their homes and prepare to actively defend them. Residents have been warned not to attempt to return to their homes.

A number of roads remain closed including:

  • Brookton Highway in both directions from Albany Highway to Soldiers Road Roleystone.
  • Connell Avenue and Turner Road
  • Brookside Avenue and Clifton Street
  • Chevin Road and Canning Mills Road

The City of Armadale has set up a relocation point at City of Armadale Arena on the corner of Forrest and Townly Street, Armadale. A second relocation point has been established at Waroona Recreation and Aquatic Centre in Hill Street.

People living on the eastern or northern side of the fire should leave via Peet Road and Chevin Road Roleystone and Mills Road East Martin. Those living on the southern or western side of the fire should leave via Soldiers Road Roleystone or via Churchman Brook Road, Bedfordale.

The Education Department has closed Clifton Hills Primary School, Herne Hill Primary School and Kelmscott Primary School today, with parents advised to keep students at home or to contact the South Metropolitan District Education Office on (08) 9336 3563 for further advice.

Warnings and road closures – Swan Valley

FESA has warned there is still an immediate threat to lives and homes for properties east of Campersic Road in Brigadoon, Baskerville, Millendon, Red Hill and Herne Hill.

Areas at risk include Campersic Road and homes east of Campersic Road between the intersection of Camargue Drive, Brigadoon and Neuman Road, Red Hill. Other areas impacted include homes on Haddrill Road east, Hardwick Road east, Weir Road, Abraham Close, Range Road, Loton Road east, Padbury Avenue east, William Street east, Cymosa Street, Macham Road, Range Road, Weir Road, Abraham Close, Daniel Place, Swannell Trail, Joshua Mews and Neuman Road.

People who have not already left have been instructed to leave immediately for a safer place and take a survival kit with them. If people cannot leave, they have been warned to shelter in their homes and prepare to actively defend them. Residents have been warned not to attempt to return to their homes.

The following road blocks are in place:

  • All cross roads on Campersic Road
  • William Street and Lefroy Avenue
  • Railway Parade and Haddrill Road intersection is now open
  • Railway Parade and Padbury Avenue intersection is now open
  • Toodyay Road is now open
  • Carmague Drive is now open

A lower-grade watch and act notice has been issued for people west of Campersic Road. A fire is approaching the area and FESA has warned residents to prepare to leave or actively defend their properties.

The Department of Child Protection has set up a relocation point at Swan Park Leisure Centre on Gray Drive, Midvale, off Morrison Road. People heading to the relocation point have been advised to leave in a westerly direction towards the Great Northern Highway.

People in Brigadoon between Campersic Road, Connemara Drive and Boulannaise Drive will soon be allowed to return to their properties. Residents are advised to travel via the Great Northern Highway via Cathedral Avenue and Camargue Drive, and have been warned to be careful of fallen trees, downed power lines and damaged infrastructure including walls, bridges, roads and footpaths. You will need to have identification to get access to the area.

Bushfire prevention advice

  • Close all doors and windows.
  • When the wind direction changes and there is a break from the smoky conditions, open all your doors and windows to improve the indoor air quality.
  • Turn off evaporative air conditioners but keep water running through the system if possible.
  • Start patrolling around your house with your garden hose and check for spot fires which may have started from burning embers.
  • If you are away from home, do not try to return as the road conditions in the area could be very dangerous.

For the latest updates and warnings, log on towww.fesa.wa.gov.au or call 1300 657 209.

– Staff reporters, with AAP

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

February 7th, 2011

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