The number of homes confirmed lost to the massive bushfire threatening Perth’s north-east has risen to 81, with firefighters still battling to bring it under control.
“I need to stress that the bushfire emergency is not over. The threat to lives and homes remains and emergency warnings are still in
place,” Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said.
“These fires are highly unpredictable and things can go bad very quickly. Weather conditions are still volatile, with strong winds forecast.”
A water-bombing plane has been sent from NSW as hundreds of firefighters spent their fourth day battling the blaze. There are now three aerial water tankers helping to fight the enormous fire.
On Wednesday night, a mammoth effort managed to save the Shady Hills Estate from the blaze.
After a bleak couple of days, this morning we’ve had some positive news. You’ve all heard that the Shady Hills Estate has been saved. This is a truly remarkable achievement,” Mr McGowan said.
Late on Wednesday, gusty winds pushed the fire towards homes in Avon Ridge Estate, Shady Hills View, Gidgegannup’s north and along the Great Northern Highway.
But it was stopped by more than 500 firefighters, who battled tough conditions in steep terrain, and 11 air tanker sorties dropping 200,000 litres of fire retardant.
Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent Peter Sutton said the fire came close to homes south of Bullbrook, near the RAAF Base Pearce.
“The fire ran up Avon Valley into Shady Hills and was successfully stopped by the retardant line,” he said on Thursday.
“But today we’re going to experience strong easterly winds over the fire grounds which will test those western and northern boundaries.
“We expect there to be some concerns today, so we ask members of the public to be vigilant.”
By Thursday afternoon, the strong winds had grounded the air tankers, further complicating the firefighting effort.
DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said the call was about to go out for support from interstate firefighting crews and incident management teams.
The owners of homes that had been destroyed were also being notified, and authorities were trying to arrange access to fire grounds for those who had lost properties.
Earlier, an alert was issued for people in Shady Hills View, Bullsbrook’s east and north of Gidgegannup.
“It’s too late to leave and leaving now would be deadly. You need to shelter in your home in a room away from the fire front and make sure you can easily escape,” the DFES said.
The blaze has travelled 21 kilometres since it started near Werribee Road in Wooroloo on Monday. By early Thursday afternoon (local time), it was eight kilometres wide and covered more than 10,000 hectares.
“It’s a very large complex incident in very difficult terrain and we have to get machinery in there which can be a long process, so this is going to go for at least a week or more,” Mr Sutton said.
Weather conditions are not expected to improve until the weekend when rain has been forecast. In the meantime, the area can expect warm temperatures with strong winds and low humidity.
About 1200 homes and businesses in the region remain without electricity after the blaze damaged power lines and poles.
DFES incident controller Sven Anderson told ABC Radio Perth that Wednesday night’s efforts had provided some welcome relief, but there was still a big job ahead.
“[It’s] surprisingly good news that the fire has not increased significantly … colder than forecast temperatures and higher humidity were of great assistance,” he said.
“With the strong winds and warmer conditions, this is still going to be a battle.”
A DFES emergency warning remains in place for a large arc of land stretching west from Wooroloo to Upper Swan and north to Lower Chittering.
Evacuation centres have been set up at the Brown Park Recreation Complex in Swan View, Swan Active in Midland and Swan Active in Beechboro.
People whose homes have been severely damaged, or destroyed or who’ve been seriously injured in the fires will be able to access $1000 Commonwealth disaster recovery payments from Thursday.
Disaster Recovery Allowance payments will also be available for people who’ve lost income because of the blaze.