Australia — At least 44 homes have been destroyed after a massive bushfire in the Perth Hills area of Western Australia, and a man has been killed while preparing his home for a separate blaze in the area.
Conditions have eased and fire crews have been able to contain the Parkerville fire, which has burned more than 650 hectares.
The fire started on Sunday morning in Parkerville and moved rapidly to surrounding areas, including Stoneville and Mount Helena, aided by strong winds and high temperatures.
Russell Jones from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) says residents will find out today if their homes have been destroyed.
“From 7.30 this morning (local time), we will be notifying residents whether their homes have been lost or not,” he said.
“There is quite a detailed process to go through with local government to ensure that we have the correct properties with those same home owners.”
Authorities have confirmed at least 40 homes in Stoneville and another four houses in Parkerville have been lost.
Residents will be shown photographs of the damage to their homes and if conditions are safe enough they will be escorted to their properties to inspect the damage.
Mundaring Shire President Helen Dullard says residents will be given support when they are given the news about their properties.
“We will be organising to take them out there with support to actually see their home,” Ms Dullard said.
“We recognise the importance of the residents being kept informed of how it started and what happened.
“I was talking to a couple last night who felt that their house was gone, and they were insured, but they said that was small comfort to them.”
Residents Michael and Kara Cornelius say they have already heard bad news about their property.
“We got out with our bed, our toothbrush, the animals and the kids, that’s it. We’re happy,” Ms Cornelius said.
“Our street’s a mess apparently, the whole street.”
DFES warns that the number of homes lost could rise as more of the affected area is assessed.
“We have an assessment team out there this morning and they will be looking at further property damage and we will be waiting on those figures to come back,” Mr Jones said.
A man died on Sunday while trying to prepare his home for a fire burning in John Forrest National Park, also in the Perth Hills, but to the west of the Parkerville fire.
The ambulance service says the man collapsed on his roof and died. The blaze in John Forrest National Park has now been contained.
Russell Jones from DFES says more than 100 firefighters have been involved in fighting the Parkerville blaze, with some suffering from heat exhaustion.
The fires come on the back of a heatwave in Western Australia over the weekend, with temperatures on Saturday reaching 44 degrees Celsius in Perth.
That heat is now moving across the country, with temperatures in Melbourne and Adelaide expected to surpass 40C over several days this week.
Cooler temperatures are expected in Perth today, which will bring welcome relief to firefighters.
Residents endure anxious wait
Some fire-affected residents spent the night with friends and relatives while others bedded down at the Brown Park Community Centre in Swan View.
Stoneville resident Aaron Miles and his partner only had a minute to gather belongings before the fire approached.
“We obviously knew that the fire was moving pretty quickly,” he told the ABC.
“We just went for the important stuff: hard drive, documents. Everything else is technically replaceable if it comes to that.”
Mr Miles does not know what has happened to his home.
Another resident, Peter, said last night that embers were falling onto his home near Mount Helena.
He planned to secure his horses and grab a few essentials before leaving his property.
“We are just taking our animals, our main clothes; we’ve got our tax files in a box. That’s it,” he said.
“We are leaving everything else. It can burn, it doesn’t matter.”
Resident Bernie Schelfhout says he had only seconds to escape his property.
“I looked over and I had about 10 or 15 seconds to get out of there,” he said.
“I had to drive to the gate which was towards where the fire was coming from, I wasn’t too impressed about that but it was now or never so off I went.”
Campbell Fuller from the Insurance Council of Australia says they have declared a catastrophe for the bushfire-affected Perth Hills area.
“What that means is that the industry has escalated its response and has set up a taskforce to talk to governments and government agencies, non-government organisations and the local community,” he said.
“Insurers will escalate and prioritise those claims and do their best to reduce the stress that these families and these communities are already experiencing.”
Mr Fuller said homeowners who are insured should contact their insurance company as soon as possible and start discussing the claims process.
Residents can call the Insurance Council’s disaster hotline on 1800 734 621.