Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Air tankers save homes from WA bushfire

Strong winds are set to again test firefighters battling a blaze in Perth’s northeast after air tankers saved more homes from burning overnight.

February 4, 2020

An out-of-control bushfire in Perth’s northeastern suburbs has been stopped from claiming more homes overnight, but strong winds are set to test firefighters for the fourth day.

The massive blaze with a 126km perimeter has raced northwest across the city’s coastal plain after destroying 71 homes near the hills town of Wooroloo on Monday night.

Gusty winds late on Wednesday pushed the fire towards homes in Avon Ridge Estate, Shady Hills View, Gidgegannup’s north and along the Great Northern Highway.

But the blaze was stopped by more than 500 firefighters who battled tough conditions in steep terrain, and 11 air tanker sorties dropping 200,000 litres of fire retardant.

Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent Peter Sutton says the fire came close to homes south of Bullbrook.

“The fire ran up Avon Valley into Shady Hills and was successfully stopped by the retardant line,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Former firefighter Stewart Brisbane, 55, stayed and defended his rural property north of the blaze.

“The embers were raining in on us last night with the wind changing and picking up,” he told AAP.

“I had all my pumps set up and the neighbours all banded together and helped each other.

“But after they dropped the retardant the fire didn’t move.”

Mr Brisbane said conditions were relatively calm on Thursday morning.

But strong easterly winds forecast for later in the day are expected to test the western and northern boundaries of the blaze.

Properties near Walyunga National Park and the southern end of Great Northern Highway are likely to come under threat.

Hay producer Chris White said the fire was due east of his property and he could see water bombers working above it.

“If (the wind) goes full easterly, it’ll come straight through this place,” he told AAP.

“It just has to come down the hill to get to us, and if it wants to, it will. It’s all wind-related.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the situation was very dangerous.

“There still remains the potential for gusts of up to 60-70km/h, which may cause embers to carry ahead of the main fire,” he said.

An alert is in place for people in Shady Hills View, Bullsbrook’s east and north of Gidgegannup.

“It’s too late to leave and leaving now would be deadly. You need to shelter in your home in a room away from the fire front and make sure you can easily escape,” the DFES said.

Federal Minister for Emergency Services David Littleproud said another large air tanker was on its way to Perth from NSW to help WA firefighters.

“Although the official count is still 71 homes that have been destroyed, we are bracing ourselves for further losses of homes overnight,” he said.

“Thankfully, there are no reports of anyone missing or loss of life.”

The blaze has travelled 21km since it started near Werribee Road in Wooroloo on Monday. It’s currently eight kilometres wide and more than 10,000 hectares in size.

“It’s a very large complex incident in very difficult terrain and we have to get machinery in there which can be a long process, so this is going to go for at least a week or more,” Mr Sutton said.

Weather conditions are not expected to improve until the weekend when rain has been forecast. In the meantime, the area is set to endure warm temperatures with strong winds and low humidity.

More than 1300 homes and businesses in the region remain without electricity after the blaze damaged about 800 power poles and 100 transformers.

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