The alert level for two bushfires nearing a township of 35,000 people in the south of Western Australia has been downgraded as firefighters manage to halt the blazes’ destructive paths.
Firefighters have been battling more than 30 active fires in the region, after a prescribed burn escaped containment lines and winds from the season’s first strong cold front fanned flames on Thursday night.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) has described it as “an unprecedented fire situation within the City of Albany”.
One of the fires is burning 10 kilometres west of the city of Albany in the Redmond area and the other is in the Napier area near the Porongurup National Park, about 20km to Albany’s north-east.
08:35 PM – Bushfire WATCH AND ACT for parts REDMOND, MARBELUP and ELLEKER, including Albany Greens Subdivision in the CITY OF ALBANY. There is also a Bushfire ADVICE for Elleker Townsite. https://t.co/N3B54wqY1x@ABCemergency @AlbanyAd pic.twitter.com/pyC2ZnO60v
— DFES (@dfes_wa) May 25, 2018
The Redmond fire alert has been downgraded to a watch and act, but the DFES advised homes and lives are still considered under threat.
The alert level extends to people about 16km west of Albany in Elleker township, and those in the area around the Lake Powell Nature Reserve.
The Napier fire alert level has been downgraded to advice. People are being asked to actively monitor conditions.
At least one home has been lost in the town of Wellstead, east of Albany, according to Albany Mayor Dennis Wellington.
“One house confirmed as being burnt out, there’s another shed which is full of farm materials burnt out,” Mr Wellington said.
He said livestock had been lost, and it was fortunate nobody had been injured in the fires.
Mr Wellington said about 4,000 hectares had been burnt in this area so far, and about 17,000 hectares in the Porongurup fire.
“It’s just something we’ve never experienced before,” Mr Wellington said.
Mr 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.
Mr Wellington said crews had travelled from the nearby regional hubs of Katanning, Cranbrook and Tambellup to assist worn out volunteer firefighters.
It was earlier reported that Nutkin Lodge farmstay in Peaceful Bay had been destroyed, but owner Linda Hoskin told ABC Radio the property had been saved and all guests were safe after earlier being evacuated.
Three other fires that had threatened homes and forced the evacuation of residents have been downgraded, including a fire at Albany’s Goode Beach.
Wind gusts of more than 100 kilometres per hour have been recorded at Albany.
A severe weather warning remains in place, with potential wind gusts of up to 125 kilometres per hour.
Stretched to the limit
One of the biggest concerns for authorities has been the Redmond and Napier blazes combining on the outskirts on Albany to create a huge firefront.
The southern half of the state has been battered by the first strong cold front of the season, but while strong winds whipped up flames, there was not enough rainfall to have a major impact on most of the fires.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Superintendent Wayne Green said earlier on Friday resources were under pressure.
“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.”
He urged residents to stay alert.
“All I’m doing is urging our residents and our community to monitor Emergency WA, have a look at the location of the fires and enact your plans now,” he said.
“Don’t wait for any further advices — have a look at right now, if it’s something near your property put your plan into play right now.”