Twin bushfires rage out of control in Perth suburbs

Twin bushfires rage out of control in Perth suburbs

06 February 2011

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Australia — Residents of one Perth suburb ravaged by bushfire have been allowed to return to their homes.

Some Clifton Hills residents were given the news this afternoon

Authorities also believe the fire is contained and the wind that was playing havoc with firefighters’ ability to tackle the blaze, is now working in their favour.

At least 59 properties have been destroyed in a toll authorities believe could go higher.

The new figure dwarfs the 42 properties previously believed gutted by one of the most devastating bushfires in Perth’s history, which authorities believe was sparked by a person cutting metal with an angle grinder.

WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority incident controller Gary Kennedy told a meeting of affected residents this evening that Clifton Hills residents would be allowed to return to their homes tonight.

“The fire is contained,” he said to applause at the Armadale Arena.

“The wind is… actually working in our favour now.”

Other residents could face longer delays as the blaze, while under control, still burns.

FESA chief operations officer Craig Hynes said the final damage figure could jump further, with only 60 per cent of the affected area surveyed for damage. Fire crews had been unable to get into some of the worst-hit areas, where the blaze was still burning.

“I hope that’s going to be the extent of it,” Mr Hynes said.

FESA has confirmed a further 28 properties have been damaged by the flames that have engulfed about 800 hectares in the south-east suburbs of Roleystone and Kelmscott, forcing hundreds to evacuate.

The Buckingham Bridge on Brookton Highway has also collapsed after being consumed by the out-of-control blaze, and it is expected to be impassable for up to three weeks. Western Power has advised more than 1600 customers had been left without power, either through damage or after supplies were cut for public safety reasons.

Meanwhile, a separate bushfire that forced more than 100 people to evacuate in the Swan Valley suburbs of Red Hill, Brigadoon, Baskerville, Millendon and Herne Hill has finally been downgraded.

Damage has been restricted to two sheds, a water tank and some fencing, but more than 1170 hectares of bushland have been scorched. Fire crews have managed to strengthen containment lines around the blaze before any significant damage occurred.

Bushfires declared a natural disaster

WA Premier Colin Barnett has declared the Roleystone fire a natural disaster, opening up extra state and federal funding to help with the recovery effort.

He also announced immediate short-term grants of $3000 to each person who had lost a home and $1000 to each person whose property suffered extensive damage, to help them through the coming days. The City of Perth Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund has also launched the Perth Hills Bushfire appeal for the

community to donate to those affected by the fire

Mr Barnett praised fire authorities and the sensible and responsible actions of residents in fleeing the area early.

“A result of that good sense and proper management of this serious fire is that there has been no loss of life and that’s something we should all be thankful for,” Mr Barnett said.

FESA state coordinator Mal Cronstedt said the fire fight was still very intense in the Roleystone area, with the blaze having entered urban areas where bushland meets the suburbs.

More than 100 firefighters and 50 trucks were tackling the blaze, with reinforcements called in from as far as Albany and Geraldton. Despite 95 per cent of the Roleystone blaze being under control, Mr Cronstedt said firefighters were continuing to battle its flank, which posed a concern.

“It was a herculean effort by firefighters in that area to contain it to the 800 hectares,” he said. “That’s a moving beast and it will require a huge effort today to put in a fire line completely around the fire and ensure it’s as safe as practically possible.

“This will continue for some time and I expect the effort in Roleystone will go for many days yet.”

Earlier, Mr Kennedy said while the fire was contained on several fronts, there was a real threat it could take off again, due to strong easterly winds.

“While it may look like it’s pretty pleasant out there it isn’t,” he said. “Power poles are dropping all over the place, as are trees. It’s extremely dangerous for our operations staff, let alone residents.”

Police Superintendent Darryl Gaunt warned police would arrest anyone trying to re-enter the fire area until it was given the all-clear by fire crews.

One firefighter has been injured and remains in hospital in a stable condition after being hit by a fire truck near Roleystone. At least 12 people have been hospitalised with smoke inhalation

Both blazes deemed accidental

Fire investigators have dispelled fears of arson, saying they have confirmed the Roleystone blaze was accidentally lit by a person operating an angle grinder while undertaking metalwork.

FESA, police and power investigators have confirmed the Swan Valley blaze had been caused by a tree branch falling on to electrical infrastructure during the strong winds.

FESA regional coordinator John McMillan said the fire services were 100 per cent committed to fighting the fires, but crews were tiring after the protracted battle.

“At the moment we have assessment teams out in the field, assessing the structures that have been impacted,” he told ABC radio.

“We haven’t had loss of life. We are grateful for that but certainly there’s a lot of trauma that goes with it.”

Mr McMillan said neither of two big fires outside Perth were under control, and unpredictable and strong winds were expected this morning.

“Our struggle will remain until we get some respite in these unusual weather conditions,” he said.

“It’s just the strength of the easterly winds. They were at damaging strength two days ago and they have maintained the consistency.”

Strong winds fan flames

The fires were fuelled through the night by hot and gusty easterly winds, reaching up to 75km/h, and the Bureau of Meteorology has warned conditions are unlikely to ease before midday today.

Mr Hynes said FESA was warned by the Bureau to expect “remarkable winds” over the weekend, and had prepared for the extreme conditions.

“We weren’t surprised that the wind strengths were gusting at up to 75km/h. Last night we got a little bit of a reprieve, they probably peaked at around 50 to 60km/h,” Mr Hynes said. “We are expecting those winds to ease at around 12 o’clock today.”

A fire weather warning is still in force Central West district, Lower West district including the Perth Metropolitan area, and the Mortlock and Avon sub-districts of the Central Wheatbelt. The Bureau is warning fresh and gusty easterly winds blowing for the rest of the day would be conducive to the rapid spread of fire. If a fire takes hold, it will be unpredictable, move very fast and be difficult for firefighters to bring under control

The winds have been so strong FESA was yesterday forced to ground two fixed-wing water bombing aircraft, with conditions too unsafe for them to join the fight.

These aircraft have taken to the skies above Roleystone today, joined by two large Type-1 helicopters and other support helitacs. Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson said another two Type-1 helicopters were being transported from Victoria and would be joining the fire fight tomorrow.

In Roleystone, the army of career and volunteer firefighters has been joined by specialist Country Fire Authority officers from Victoria, who operated during the devastating Black Saturday bushfires. Another 100 firefighters have been deployed to the Swan Valley blaze.

‘The sky was bright red’

Denise and Lorry Cole were among those watching the Swan Valley fire’s progress down a bush-clad ridge from a police roadblock, unable to return until given the all-clear.

They packed their toy poodle Monty, pet parrot Livingstone, photos and documents into their car and left their Padbury Avenue property in Herne Hill after midnight when authorities advised that an evacuation would be taking place.

“The sky was bright red and sometimes you could see the flames, the wind was really gusty,” Ms Cole said.

“The guys are doing their best. We’re ex-army so we take these things in our stride.”

The Coles got no sleep overnight but said they were glad of coffee at the relocation centre, where some evacuated residents turned up with horses in horse floats.

At the relocation centre in Roleystone, retired couple Dave and Carole Locke arrived with their cat Daisy in a box along with photographs and other cherished possessions.

“When the phone rang and they said, ‘Get out’, we got out,” Mr Locke said.

Warnings and road closures – Roleystone

A watch and act is in place for people in the south western part of Roleystone and south eastern part of Kelmscott.

The bushfire is contained and under control, however FESA has warned that residents need to remain vigilant due to strong easterly winds in the area.

A number of roads remain closed including:

* Brookton Highway – closed in both directions from Albany Highway to Soldiers Road
* Intersection of Coventary Road and Chevin Road

The following intersections are now open to local traffic only:

* Connell Avenue and Turner Road
* Brookside Avenue and Clifton Street
* Chevin Road and Canning Mills Road
* Connell Avenue and Brookside Avenue will open at 7pm

The City of Armadale has set up a relocation point at City of Armadale Arena on the corner of Forrest and Townly Street, Armadale. A second relocation point has been established at Waroona Recreation and Aquatic Centre in Hill Street.

The Education Department has closed Clifton Hills Primary School, Kelmscott Primary School and Good Shepherd School tomorrow, with parents advised to keep students at home or to contact the South Metropolitan District Education Office on (08) 9336 3563 or Catholic Education Office on (08) 6380 5200 for further advice.

Warnings and road closures – Swan Valley

FESA has downgraded warnings for people in properties east of Campersic Road in Brigadoon, Baskerville, Millendon, Red Hill and Herne Hill to an advice alert. The bushfire is contained and under control and there is no threat to lives or homes.

The following road closures are still in place:

* Haddrill Road east of Campersic Road across to Weir Road to the intersection of Joshua Mews.
* Joshua Mews and Swannell Trail to Boulonnais Drive.

A lower-grade bushfire advice notice has been issued for people west of Campersic Road. FESA advises there is no longer any threat to homes or lives, but residents should be aware and keep up to date on the changing conditions. Western Power has restored supplies to the area.

The Department of Child Protection has set up a relocation point at Swan Park Leisure Centre on Gray Drive, Midvale, off Morrison Road. People heading to the relocation point have been advised to leave in a westerly direction towards the Great Northern Highway.

Returning residents are advised to travel via the Great Northern Highway via Cathedral Avenue and Camargue Drive, and have been warned to be careful of fallen trees, downed power lines and damaged infrastructure including walls, bridges, roads and footpaths.

Bushfire prevention advice

* Close all doors and windows.
* When the wind direction changes and there is a break from the smoky conditions, open all your doors and windows to improve the indoor air quality.
* Turn off evaporative air conditioners but keep water running through the system if possible.
* Start patrolling around your house with your garden hose and check for spot fires which may have started from burning embers.
* If you are away from home, do not try to return as the road conditions in the area could be very dangerous.

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