WA News

WA fires: deadly Waroona blaze contained but not controlled, downgraded to 'advice'

Residents are slowly returning to their homes in WA's South West as mild weather supports efforts to control the fire that has destroyed lives and homes in the region for a week. 

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Growing anger over WA's bushfire crisis

Yarloop residents have expressed their frustrations saying they weren't warned about the threat of a fire, which destroyed their town and killed two locals. DFES Commissioner Wayne Gregson has defended the department. Audio courtesy of 6PR. Vision thanks to 9 News Perth.

The alert level, at 'emergency' on Thursday, then 'watch and act' on Monday, was downgraded on Tuesday to an 'advice'. 

Residents of Lake Clifton, Herron, Cookernup, Harvey and Waroona were allowed to return to their properties through checkpoints at their own risk, warned of hazards including falling trees, hot spots, loose livestock, damaged power infrastructure and unstable buildings. 

For full fire conditions and instructions visit DFES online or on Twitter

Yarloop was still closed to the public and without water on Wednesday, and was still unsafe for people in Preston Beach to leave as the roads were still strewn with debris.

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The bushfire killed two men and flattened their hometown of Yarloop, destroyed 180 buildings and other infrastructure and burned through 71,000 hectares of land after lightning sparked it last Wednesday, January 6.

As of Wednesday 162 homes were confirmed destroyed, mostly in Yarloop but also in Lake Clifton, Hoffman, Uduc and Wagerup. 

18 other buildings, including commercial and community buildings, caravans and sheds were destroyed in Yarloop, Waroona and Wagerup. Damage to infrastructure includes to Samson Brook Bridge, Salmon River Bridge and power infrastructure supplying thousands of homes.

At its peak the perimeter measured 327 kilometres and 350 emergency services personnel worked to contain it, both on the firefront and sidelines. By Wednesday it was considered contained but not controlled. 

The numbers were on Wednesday at 100, and those staff were assisted by a crew of 68 from New South Wales, which arrived on Saturday. 

A new contingent of 60 management support staff from NSW, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and Tasmania arrived on the scene on Wednesday. 

Department of Parks and Wildlife scientist Neil Burrows said the South West bushfires had been so intense they had created their own climate.

"Flames reached heights of 30 to 40 metres and actually created their own thunderstorms and lightning," he said.

"The speed and ferocity were overwhelming."

Water in Yarloop 

All water services are fully operational with the exception of Yarloop, where two temporary taps had been installed on Johnston Road across from the oval to provide safe drinking water for the residents who stayed in the town.

Water Corporation has an assistance package for all customers impacted by the bushfire. Further details here.   

Donations 

Large donations have included $1 million from the state government, $100,000 from miner Alcoa, $150,000 from the organisers of Southbound music festival's benefit concert and $75,000 from shoppers via Coles supermarkets (including $25,000 from Coles). 

People are asked not to donate general goods or secondhand items as these will become an additional problem.

To make donations of stock feed or farm supplies, liaise with your local Shire Recovery Co-ordinator. 

To help the animal victims, donate items including towels, bedding, pet food, blankets, and bowls for water and food at Murdoch University Veterinary Hospital, which among other actions is caring for horses badly burned in the blazes. A full list of items needed is here (warning, graphic images). 

Monetary donations can be made through the Lord Mayor's Distress Relief Fund. Details are available here or by phoning 9461 3886. 

Evacuee count passed 1500

More than 1500 people were sheltered at the evacuation centres in Pinjarra and Australind during the crisis. 

The Pinjarra centre closed at 8am on Wednesday and those still there relocated to the Australind centre, where a community meeting was scheduled for 1pm. 

The Department for Child Protection and Family Support, running the centres, is preparing evacuees to go back home, director general Emma White said.

"Many evacuees have been making the most of being with other people to receive support and encouragement," Ms White said in a statement. 

"The realisation for many [is] they do not have a home to go back to.  

"We now begin the transition from response to recovery, which for some people will take up to two years and beyond."

The Department's role in a State emergency is to assist in response and recovery and link people with immediate and long-term support.

Ms White thanked collaborating agencies including the shires of Murray, Waroona and Harvey, Volunteering WA, the Red Cross, Adventist Development Relief Agency, Salvation Army, Country Women's Association, service and sporting clubs, local community groups, DFES and the Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Affected residents can access help and advice on 24-hour disaster hotline 1800 032 965.

Road closures

The 60-kilometre stretch between Pinjarra  and Myalup Beach Roads of the vital arterial Forrest Highway between Perth and Bunbury reopened on Tuesday. 

Travellers are still advised to avoid non-essential travel through the affected areas. If you must travel, ensure your petrol tank is full before you depart. 

Closed: 

  • All roads off Forrest Highway between Forestry Road and Dorsett Road, including Preston Beach Road
  • Old Coast Road (both directions) from Old Bunbury Road to Forrest Highway
  • South Western Highway (both directions) from Greenlands Road to Dixon Avenue
  • Nanga Road between Murray River bridge and Driver Road
  • Nanga Brook Road, east of Scarp Road
  • Forestry Road between Forrest Highway and Uduc Road (except local residents)
  • Collie-Tallanalla Road between Harvey-Quindanning Road and Dupont Road
  • Kent Road between Harvey-Quindanning Road and Collie-Tallanalla Road
  • Honeymoon Road between Harvey-Quindanning Road and South Western Highway
  • Dupont Road between Harvey-Quindanning Road and Collie-Tallanalla Road

If you are travelling south from Perth, the best route is via Forrest Highway or Albany Highway to Coalfields Highway. If you are travelling north to Perth, the best route is via Forrest Highway or Coalfields Highway to Albany Highway

For more information call Main Roads on 138 138.

Cost surpasses $60 million

The Insurance Council of Australia says several hundred calls have been made to insurers following the bushfires.

The ICA on Friday declared a catastrophe and activated a disaster hotline. 

"Insured losses are now estimated at $60 million and are continuing to rise. More detailed figures will be released later in the week," ICA said in a statement on Monday.

Two bodies found in Yarloop, missing person accounted for

Two bodies were found in burnt-out houses in the bushfire-ravaged town.

WA Police on Saturday night said the suspected human remains could belong to war veteran Les Taylor and cancer survivor Malcolm Taylor, aged 77 and 73.

No formal identification has been made but the families of both men have been advised of the developments.

"Further forensic work will need to be undertaken once it is deemed safe to do so, and reports will be prepared for the WA coroner," a police spokesman said on Monday.

Premier declares natural disaster

Premier Colin Barnett declared the Waroona fires a natural disaster on Saturday after visiting the Pinjarra evacuation centre.

Mr Barnett said the fires had devastated several communities and the activation of natural disaster support would release emergency funds to individuals and families, as well local governments.

"Talking to people who've lost their homes, you have to admire their spirit; it's a terrible thing to happen and with the support of the volunteer groups, and the community organisations, it's really heartening to see how Australians respond," he said.

'Some shorts, some undies and my insurance papers'

Rod Kennedy moved from Perth to Yarloop six months ago, hoping to enjoy a peaceful retirement.

By Friday morning his bush dream lay in tatters - decimated by the firestorm that swept through Yarloop, destroying 121 homes.

But Mr Kennedy has vowed to rebuild in the tiny mill town, which had a population of a little more than 500 people but is likely to become even smaller as a result of this week's fire devastation.

"The house is totalled, completely gone. The shed is destroyed, I've lost my caravan and a boat," Mr Kennedy told Radio 6PR from an evacuation centre in Pinjarra.

"I've got half a dozen pairs of shorts and some undies and my insurance papers.

"We might be able to return [to Yarloop] in three days, get back and get the insurance assessor to have a look.

"Maybe in six months I might have another house...maybe."

'It's burnt to a cinder'

The President of the Yarloop Bowling Club spoke on Friday of the utter devastation caused by the fire, which all but destroyed the tiny town in the space of seven minutes.

"There's very little of Yarloop left. I couldn't get all the way down there but understand the steam museum is gone ... the post office survived, the pub is gone, the bowling club survived," Mr Sackville told Radio 6PR.

"Fortunately I have a firefighting pump at the house and managed to save our house and the horses that were in the paddock - they are in the backyard now.

"But I look around 360 degrees and everything is burnt to a cinder. I think the post office is the only building left standing [in the main street]. The fire was horrendous."

Lost in the blaze were the heritage-listed Yarloop Workshops and Steam Museum, which were world-renowned for their preservation of steam-age industry.

Power outages 

Power outages remained on Wednesday and Western Power advised there would be continued electricity interruptions, with customers without power encouraged to make alternative plans on the basis of restoration not happening for several days.

A significant portion of the network would require rebuilding. Poles and equipment were already being delivered in preparation for the rebuild. Homes without power include 5000 in the Margaret River area.

Western Power spokesman Paul Entwistle said he appreciated people's patience. 

"Until we can safely get in and assess assets, we can't give an estimate as to when all homes will be reconnected," he said.

- with AAP

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