New Year fireworks and the current craze for releasing candle-powered lanterns are thought to be the reasons for a swag of bush fires. Rural firefighters are out dealing with more than half a dozen blazes across the North Island this morning The largest is at Piha, on the coast west of Auckland, where almost a dozen fire service units are still on the scene. The blaze was first spotted in native bush just after midnight. A helicopter has been needed because of the terrain, and the fire is now under control. There are also reports of two helicopters in the air at Mahia on the east coast after fireworks ignited a bush fire.
Residents of Toodyay, north-east of Perth, have just been allowed to go back to their properties after a fire swept through the area destroying 38 homes. Residents in areas affected by the blaze have not had access since they fled their homes when the fire broke out on Tuesday afternoon. Many residents are concerned for animals which have been without water for almost two days. Others are hoping to salvage any belongings after their homes were lost. Authorities say it is the biggest loss of homes in a WA bushfire in 50 years. About 3000 hectares were burnt in the fire which started on Tuesday afternoon. Tom Carter and his partner own the local fruit shop. They lost their home and orchard in the blaze and are now focusing on keeping their shop open. Mr Carter says he will visit the property today. “It’s going to be heart wrenching today to go out there and see what we don’t have,” he said. Fire authorities are extinguishing the last of the spot fires and expect to let some residents return to their properties later today. Western Power’s Mark de Laeter says it could be several days before power is restored to many Toodyay residents. “There’s approximately 200 customers without power we were able to connect a few customers on the main line some distance out of town last night,” he said. The WA and Federal Governments will provide financial assistance to the fire victims. The WA Government will provide up to $3000 assistance for families in immediate need of financial help. Funding from the Federal Government will be available for personal hardship grants, assistance for primary producers and interest rate subsidies for small businesses. Another bushfire at Badgingarra, in the state’s Wheatbelt, has been contained. That fire has burnt almost 11,000 hectares.
A fallen wooden power pole is a likely cause of the devastating Toodyay bushfire which destroyed 38 homes north of Perth, Western Power said today. Western Power Managing Director Doug Aberle told Perth Now initial investigations today had revealed that the fire started near its power lines close to the town, but said a final cause of the accident had not yet been found. He said an independent assessor would arrive on Saturday from South Australia to investigate the cause. “It appears that a pole has fallen – thats what is clear to us at this stage, Mr Aberle said. “But because of the fire damage, piecing together what occurred is made a lot more difficult than if you dont have a fire taking a lot of assets out. Mr Aberle said the fallen power pole was a wooden transformer pole – a single pole with a single line – which had come down about 20m from a roadway on the western side of the town. He said he did not know whether the blaze began on the pole before it fell or after the conductor hit the scrub, or why the pole came down, but said all poles in the area had been inspected in 2007. He said there were 630,000 wooden power poles in WA and it was “impossible to reduce this risk to absolutely zero”. “Australian practice is to inspect poles every four years and we follow that practice, and that was two years ago, he said. “If it is determined that the fire is caused by our negligence, we will be paying compensation as appropriately determined, as we always do. “At this stage we need to get on as quickly as we can with the investigation and getting the power poles cleared, and also getting the power poles repaired and power back up. That is our immediate concern.”
Australia declares disaster as fires destroy homes
Australian authorities declared a natural disaster Wednesday after a raging wildfire destroyed nearly 40 homes in the country’s worst blaze since 173 died in February’s Black Saturday tragedy. Hundreds of firefighters battled the inferno at the wheat-farming town of Toodyay, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the Western Australian capital Perth, after searing heat and windy weather fuelled fires in the state. “This is a devastating fire with great destruction,” state Premier Colin Barnett told reporters, declaring the blaze a natural disaster to unlock emergency funds. “I want to express my sympathy to those who have lost their homes, over 30 houses destroyed by a very severe, very intense bushfire in the surrounding area of Toodyay.” Some 37 homes along with sheds, outhouses and livestock were engulfed by the fire, which swept through more than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) of land in the sparsely populated farming community. Three firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and dehydration and one resident had minor injuries, the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) said. “I’d like to acknowledge the efforts of firefighters and the police and the Shire of Toodyay,” Barnett said. “There’s no doubt they saved lives last night. “If you saw the destruction; homes totally destroyed, and (people) got to safety (with the help) of emergency services.” Witness Sally Magee described terrifying scenes as she fled her home. “Terrible smoke and it was quite frightening actually driving… I mean you could actually see the line of fire,” she told ABC Radio. Fire crews who worked through the night said the blaze was nearly under control by Wednesday afternoon, aided by cooler weather. “All the perimeters are contained. There are really some hot spots out there and they are burning out a few edges just so they can make it safe,” FESA spokesman Craig Hynes said. A second major fire in Badgingarra, about 160 kilometres north of Perth, had burned through some 10,500 hectares of land, although no homes were lost. Australia is still recovering from Black Saturday, when more than 2,000 homes were lost in the state of Victoria in the country’s worst natural disaster of modern times. Officials credited a new fire warning system introduced since Black Saturday, which urges people to leave their homes rather than stay and try to fight the flames, with saving lives in the Toodyay blaze. “We’re saying to people make your life a priority,” FESA’s Hynes said. Parts of Western Australia’s goldfields region were given the top-level “catastrophic” fire danger rating on Wednesday, while Tasmanian state authorities imposed a ban on lighting fires. Australians are bracing for another horror bushfire season after one of the warmest winters on record and following a decade-long drought in parts of the country. Scores of fires have broken out across the country since August, with more than 20 homes lost. A firefighter collapsed and died in New South Wales in October after helping put out a grass blaze.
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