Authorities’ worst fears have been realised, with WA police saying two men in their 70s have been killed in the bushfire which tore through the WA town of Yarloop.
Police first discovered what they believe to be the body of a 77-year-old man who had been unaccounted for, and later – at a separate residence – the body of a 73-year-old man was recovered.
“Further forensic work will need to be undertaken once it is deemed safe to do so, and reports will be prepared for the WA coroner,” a police spokesman said.
Meanwhile, authorities are warning residents in several towns that could be hit by the fire within hours to evacuate immediately unless they are ready to actively defend their homes.
Conditions eased on Saturday night, but residents remain on high alert.
An emergency warning is still in place for Hamel, Cookernup, Yarloop, Harvey and surrounding areas.
Harvey Shire president Tania Jackson said while she was optimistic about the easing conditions, the past four days had been a marathon.
“It’s just another day of catastrophe isn’t it. Each day has gone by that seems to bring worse news. It’s devastating,” she said.
Ms Jackson said the community had rallied behind the bushfire victims.
“We’ve had a mobilisation of people just willing to help and it’s so heartening,” she said.
“You feel like the strength of our community on a local level, regional level and then that national level has really just hit home.”
There are three people unaccounted for in the bushfires that have torn through more than 70,000 hectares in the state’s southwest.
On Saturday it was announced Yarloop would be rebuilt after the bushfire wiped out at least 130 homes, but the premier said it is likely to become an even smaller community.
Colin Barnett met with residents at the Pinjarra evacuation centre on Saturday and told reporters the state government would help rebuild public facilities at Yarloop, but he was unsure how many of the 545 people would return.
“I’m sure there will be a Yarloop, but probably not a Yarloop of its previous size,” he said.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Wayne Gregson said it had been a challenging bushfire with unprecedented conditions – and they were “not out of the woods yet”.
“I don’t like to get optimistic in these circumstances, we’ll just see what time brings,” he said.
The premier announced disaster assistance for victims under the jointly-funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
The fires were sparked by a lightning strike at Lane Pool Reserve, near Dwellingup, on Wednesday.
One firefighter described the fire that went through Yarloop as “like the war when the napalm bombers go through”.
Three missing, homes lost, history erased
Three people are still missing, but authorities hope to find them alive and four firefighters have also been injured since the fire started on Wednesday.
More than 60 NSW firefighters arrived on Saturday to help battle the blaze.
In addition to the lost homes, several other structures were also razed in Yarloop, including part of the school and the 110-year-old Yarloop Workshops and Steam Museum.
— Emma McIntosh (@discomamasita) January 8, 2016
Almost 100 people were evacuated from Yarloop by air and road after flames tore through the town, but 16 refused to budge, including Yarloop Bowling Club president Ron Sackville, who successfully defended his home.
He told AAP on Friday that he heard gas bottles and petrol drums explode as properties around him burned.
“Once it hit the town there was no stopping it because the houses were just exploding,” he said.
Meanwhile, about 80 firefighters are battling a separate blaze threatening lives and homes near Esperance in WA’s south.
The fire is burning south of the South Coast Highway in Dalyup with flames higher than rooftops.
People around Murray and McCall roads are being told it’s too late to leave and they need to actively defend their homes.
Police deny looting fears
West Australian Police have insisted there is no looting problem in the affected area after rumours began to spread among people at two evacuation centres in Pinjarra and Australind that looters were scouring properties while authorities were busy fighting the blaze.
Police said on Saturday they had received one report of a “suspicious person” but there appeared to be no cause for concern.
State Commander Alf Fordham said while there had been damage to some police infrastructure, including accommodation in Yarloop, it was not affecting police services.
“At this point in time there does not appear to be any law and order issues in the fire impacted areas, however we will continue to provide a highly visible police presence through regular patrols and respond to specific concerns that are raised,” he said.
If you want to help
Material donations are not currently being accepted, but people can make monetary donations through the Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund.
The state government has committed $1 million to the relief fund.
– with ABC/AAP