Four bushfires are threatening lives and homes in communities across Western Australia’s south, as winds from the season’s first strong cold front fan flames, sparking spot fires up to 1.5 kilometres ahead of one blaze.
Residents are being evacuated ahead of the fires, which are raging near the towns of Denmark and Albany on Western Australia’s southern coast, about 400km south of Perth.
At least one property — farmstay resort Nutkin Lodge near Peaceful Bay — has been confirmed lost.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Superintendent Wayne Green said one of the biggest concerns was the fire burning in Napier, about 30km north-east of the town of Albany, which is home to about 35,000 people.
The Napier fire is threatening to join up with another fire burning in the south-east of the Stirling Ranges, a rugged and mountainous national park north of the township.
Superintendent Gregson said there were dozens of fires across the area and crews were under a lot of strain.
“All of our resources are absolutely stretched to the point where some of the fires that are coming in and being reported now aren’t even getting a response,” he said.
Because our resources are so tied up with making sure that people are being evacuated safely.”
CBH site on Down Road under threat by a fire front reportedly 10-15kms wide. Fire started in Redmond just outside of Albany, now being fanned by strong winds. pic.twitter.com/8wMG5rLpro
— Kit Mochan (@kitternet) May 24, 2018
The southern half of the state is also being battered by the first strong cold front of the season, but while strong winds are whipping up flames, there is not enough rainfall to have a major impact on most of the fires.
“We can’t rely on any of this rain that’s starting to drizzle through at the moment, it seems to be having not that much affect out on the fire grounds,” Superintendent Gregson said.
The fires have spread quickly, with Supt Gregson saying one fire front was almost the length of the Stirling Ranges.
‘It’s just absolute mayhem’
Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington said he had never seen a fire on this scale.
“I’ve never seen anything like it … it’s just absolute mayhem,” he said.
And he said resourcing was now the city’s biggest concern.
“Our biggest problem is going to be tomorrow, is that these fellas that are out there fighting now doing just such a sensational job, they’re going to have been out there for 24 hours, they’re going to be out on their feet,” he said.
“We’ve got no resources left whatsoever if something else starts again tomorrow.”
Residents urged to take shelter
An emergency warning — the highest threat level — is also in place for Redmond, Marbelup, McKail, Elleker and Torbay on the eastern side of Albany.
Authorities say people in the vicinity of this fire are in danger and need to act immediately to survive.
For these people, DFES advises:
- It is too late to leave, leaving now would be deadly
- You need to shelter in your home and actively defend it
- Go to a room away from the fire front and make sure you can easily escape
- You must shelter before the fire arrives, as the extreme heat will kill you well before the flames reach you
- If your home catches on fire and the conditions inside become unbearable, you need to get out and go to an area that has already been burnt
Wind gusts of 98kp/h have been recorded at Albany Airport.
A watch and act is in place for Goode Beach and Frenchman Bay across the inlet from the town.
Emergency warnings have also been issued for an area south-east of Stirling Range National Park in the city of Albany, and in nearby Napier.
The Stirling Ranges fire is the result of an escaped burn, a DFES statement said.
The Department of Education has cancelled classes at the South Stirling Primary School on Friday, as a precaution.
City of Albany community emergency services manager Brendan Gordon said strong southerly winds had picked up during the evening and were pushing the fires quickly towards farming properties.
“Both of these fires will impact properties really quickly,” he said.
“We’re chucking everything at these fires and hoping for the best.”
An emergency evacuation centre has been set up at the Albany Leisure and Aquatic Centre on Barker Road.