Australia — Clashing power lines could have started a blaze that claimed thelife of a young teacher and sparked one of many major fires now threateninghomes on Perth’s outskirts.
As authorities slapped a total fire ban on the state’s tinder-dry southwestlast night, firefighters were battling to contain bushfires in the shires ofWaroona and Murray after 16 houses at Dwellingup, 100km south of Perth, weredestroyed over the past 72 hours.
Premier Alan Carpenter yesterday visited the fire-ravaged region and posted areward of $200,000 for information leading to the conviction of anyoneresponsible for lighting fires.
A team of 300 firefighters and eight water bombers yesterday battled the mostdangerous remaining blaze as gusts of 70km/h helped fan the 97km firefrontheading towards houses near the rural town of Waroona.
Today’s forecast maximum of 37C has authorities worried that they may not beable to contain the southern edge of the fire, which gained momentum in a stateforest and had burnt 15,000ha by yesterday afternoon. Temperatures are expectedto top 40C tomorrow before a cool change on Thursday.
“With the forecast weather over the next couple of days, that is goingto place quite a number of houses in imminent danger,” said fire effortco-ordinator Greg Broomehill.
The Carpenter Government yesterday declared that much of the state’ssouthwest was in a bushfire emergency period and urged those who had lostproperty or been displaced to accept help from the Department for CommunityDevelopment, which had sheltered 120 people in an evacuation centre sinceSaturday.
Mr Carpenter offered his condolences to the family of Michelle Mack, 26, whodied in a fire at Toodyay, east of Perth, on Saturday as she tried to flee herfarmhouse.
Western Power managing director Doug Aberle yesterday expressed hiscondolences to Ms Mack’s mother.
The state’s majority power utility said preliminary findings of aninvestigation into the cause of the Toodyay fire indicated extreme weatherconditions may have caused power lines to touch, sparking the blaze.
No immediate cause of the fire was positively identified and it might takeseveral days for the cause of the fire to be confirmed.
In 2003, a fire at Tenterden in the state’s Great Southern left two womendead and caused millions of dollars in property damage. A coroner’s inquestsubsequently found Western Power responsible because the fire was started byclashing power lines.
Dwellingup resident Suzanne Nancarrow was grateful that the fire missed herhome by just metres, incinerating instead her daughter Sophie’s car.
But cancer sufferer Maureen Bickley lost the two-storey house she built 15years ago.
She returned yesterday morning to find a ceramic bird bath and a metal teapotin the rubble where her house had stood.
“I’m so pleased we evacuated early,” she said.
“I didn’t fight cancer all this time to die in a house fire.”
Electrical contractor Pete Greenham lost his house on a 20ha property hisfather bought 40 years ago.
“This thing just came up the gully and I’ve never seen anything like it,”he said.
“You couldn’t describe it. It made the sound of the devil.”