Firefighters are making progress in containing the massive Perth Hills bushfire, which has so far razed 81 properties in four days and more than 10,00 hectares of land.
DFES incident controller Peter Sutton said firefighters had worked tirelessly and their hard work was paying dividends, although large areas remained under emergency warning where the fire was out of control.
“The good news is the fire is 90 per cent tracked,” he told ABC Radio.
Deputy Commissioner Craig Waters said a separate fire, which started 10 kilometres north of the main Wooroloo fire on Thursday afternoon, was “pretty much contained and controlled at this point”.
But he said the Shady Hills area remained at the highest risk of flare-ups due to gusty winds that were forecast to continue overnight.
“Given that we have strong east-south-easterly winds, that whole northern flank and the western side of the fire is going to be put under a fair bit of pressure with expected wind gusts of up to 70 kilometres an hour tonight,” he said.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said the devastation from the fire was “almost too much to comprehend”, saying it had been a “bleak couple of days”.
He said the fact that the Shady Hills estate had been saved was a “truly remarkable achievement given the ferocity of the fire”.
But the Premier also said the fire threat was far from over, and firefighters would continue to face volatile conditions.
People in the Shady Hills estate, in east Bullsbrook and the Clenton and Berry Road area of Gidgegannup were advised it is too dangerous to leave and they should shelter in their homes.
An emergency warning for the bushfire remains in place across a vast area, with lives and homes under threat and strong easterly winds expected to continue throughout the day.
The emergency warning covers parts of Aveley, Bailup, Baskerville, Belhus, Brigadoon, Bullsbrook, Ellenbrook, Gidgegannup, Henley Brook, Millendon, The Vines, Upper Swan, Walyunga National Park, Wooroloo and Wundowie, in the shires of Mundaring, Chittering and Northam and the City of Swan.
More than 10,400 hectares of land have been burnt and the perimeter of the blaze has grown to 136 kilometres, with hundreds of homes evacuated.
Emergency funding for victims
The Premier announced the State Government would provide
emergency funding of $4,000 to those whose homes had been destroyed, and $2,000 to those whose homes had been damaged.
“Many West Australians are hurting right now,” Mr McGowan said.
“We are all thinking of those who have lost their homes, in some cases their livelihoods, or had serious damage to their property.
“All West Australians are thinking of them at this time. We are all with you. We will get through this together.”
Home ‘vaporised’ by wall of flames
One Gidgegannup resident, who did not want to be named, said his bush home was “vaporised” by a huge wall of flames and a storm of embers.
He had planned to stay and defend his property using his 900-litre fire trailer and pump, but decided to evacuate when he realised the ferocity of the blaze.
He said he believed if he had stayed, he would have had zero chance of surviving.
After evacuating his home, the man watched remotely as the live footage on his security cameras showed the fire approaching in the middle of the night.
The flames turned the darkness into bright light, as trees exploded and embers swirled around his home.
He had chopped down trees around his home and built fire breaks, but said that did nothing to stop the fire.
He said his home was completely destroyed and he lost everything, including chickens and ducks in six pens he had built only months ago.
Water bombers back in air
Winds were so strong earlier today that fixed-wing waterbombing aircraft had to be grounded, but aerial support has now resumed.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Commissioner Darren Klemm said three large air tankers were putting lines of retardant ahead of the northern flank of the fire.
Three large aerial tankers are now assisting ground based crews fight the Perth Hills bushfire, which has claimed 81 homes so far.(DFES: Aaron Cuthbert)
“It’s that [Shady Hills] area now that’s causing us some problems as we stand here today,” he said.
Mr Klemm said some residents would be escorted to their properties today.
“We’re working through with the local governments of Mundaring and Swan to provide that notification to the people that are in the City of Swan. We’re looking to provide access to the fire ground east of Toodyay Road,” he said.
“Western Power have already started in there this morning, working to replace poles and get power on.
“We’ll be looking to escort some of those homeowners, people who have lost their homes, through that particular location later on this afternoon.”
Two hundred homes saved
Firefighters have so far managed to save around 200 homes, including Wayne Tucker’s.
Mr Tucker had previously been told his 200-acre property at Gidgegannup and the horses and cattle he was forced to leave behind had been wiped out by the fire, but he has since found out that was incorrect.
“We are extremely lucky. We thought we had lost everything,” Mr Tucker said.
“We’re very relieved that that is not the case and that our animals are OK and our house is OK.
“These guys [the firefighters] are unbelievable. We couldn’t survive in these areas without them.”
But Mr Tucker said he was frustrated and confused as he has been unable so far to obtain a permit to head back out to the property and assess the damage.
Police warn looters
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said there had been no further reports of burglaries or looting, after items were allegedly stolen from two evacuated homes in Averley and Red Hill earlier in the week.
The Commissioner also again expressed his support for those impacted by the fires, including members of the police force.
“I reinforce, too, my regret and sincere thoughts for all those people who have lost their homes,” he said.
“I know some of my police officers have also had their properties affected.
“We will continue to support and actively patrol.”
Rain forecast for weekend
Weather conditions continue to be onerous but firefighters are hopeful that rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday may bring some reprieve.
“Everybody can see outside how strong the wind is and that’s the challenge for today and tonight and tomorrow,” Commissioner Klemm said.
“There’s still some ways to go with this fire.
“I’d like to get a bit closer to the weekend to be more confident about the quantum of that rain.
“Five millilitres won’t necessarily do much for us, but 20 or 30 millilitres over those two days would be fantastic.”
The Bureau of Meteorology said there was a “strong likelihood” that a tropical low that has drenched the Kimberley, Pilbara and Gascoyne over the past week would bring welcome rain to aid the firefighting operations on Saturday and Sunday.
The bureau says how much rain the low generates will hinge on how close it tracks to the coast.
In the meantime, authorities are trying to work through quarantine issues for up to another 100 firefighters from interstate to fly in and offer relief to existing crews.