Wildfire in Australia: Lives and Livelihood in danger

Three major bushfires were burning at emergency warning level in Western Australia with homes threatened east and north of Perth as well as in Geraldton

A fast-moving bushfire was raging about 100 kilometres north of Perth on Tuesday evening threatening lives and homes as it bore down on a number of coastal communities.

The blaze had already destroyed more than 7,200 hectares and was proving difficult for firefighters to contain as it burned out of control while fanned by strong easterly winds.

Authorities had particular concerns for people in the areas of Ocean Farms, Seaview, Wedge Island and Lancelin.

About 270 people from Ocean Farms had already left amid concerns the fire might not be halted before it reached the residential area.

Those remaining had also been urged to leave. Other communities in the area had been told to heed the latest advice and take the appropriate action with an emergency warning message still in place.

Authorities said at 5.20pm local time on Tuesday that people in Ocean Farms estate, Seaview Park and surrounding areas were “in danger and need to act immediately to survive”.

“There is a threat to lives and homes,” the emergency warning stated. “The alert level for this fire has been upgraded as the bushfire is moving quickly.”

Emergency warnings were also issued on Tuesday evening for blazes at Beechina, east of Perth, and Wonthella in Geraldton.

The incident controller, Andy Duckworth, said the blaze threatening Ocean Farms and Seaview was running at 3.5km/h in challenging conditions, with high temperatures and strong, shifting winds across the fire ground.

“We do have active fire running at the moment so we’re trying to contain and control the blaze, using all of those strategies available to us, such as the air assets and ground crew,” he said. “We’re not taking it lightly.”

The fire’s perimeter stretched 50km with 200 firefighters on the ground supported by up to 13 aircraft – including a large air tanker.

Duckworth said of particular concern were people living in the mainland community of Wedge Island, with authorities unable to send ground crews close to the fire because of the presence of unexploded ordnance from an old bombing range.

“There’s a lot of bush around there, and we’re limited in our ability to fight the fire. We can use our aircraft but not much else,” he said.

“So we’re not confident we can pull it up before it reaches Wedge Island by any means. That’s why we’re urging those residents to pay particular attention to the warnings.”

The Gingin shire president, Wayne Fewster – who was also a volunteer firefighter – said the strength of the blaze was unusual.

“It’s not pleasant, it’s very difficult conditions to fight a fire,” he said.

“You think you’ve got it and the wind kicks up and it spots out and you haven’t got it, so it’s very difficult conditions. You’ve only got to get the wind shift a couple of degrees one way or the other and that’s when it puts a bit of pressure on the flanks and the containment lines and it jumps.”

Tuesday’s emergency followed an easing of fire danger on Monday after a string of fires threatened various areas to the north and south of Perth, on the state’s south-west coast and in the Goldfields.

At one stage emergency warnings were in place for fires at Kwinana on Perth’s southern outskirts and another further south at Rockingham.

On Sunday night a fire at Gosnells, in the city’s south-east, forced authorities to move 150 nursing home residents to a nearby evacuation centre.

With very hot weather forecast until at least Sunday, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services deputy commissioner, Craig Waters, said the risk of more fires was high.

“Whenever you come into a period of really hot weather coupled with extremely high easterly winds, we’re always going to be in for a world of hurt,” he said.