Raging bushfire devastates Australian town

A large bushfire is burning out of control in the Western Australia town of Yarloop, destroying nearly half of the town's homes.
Channel NewsAsia 8 Jan 16;

PERTH: A "catastrophic" bushfire has burnt through an historic town in Western Australia, razing 95 homes and leaving three people unaccounted for, officials said Friday.

The out-of-control blaze 110km south of Perth more than doubled in size in 24 hours and has now burned through 53,000 hectares (130,000 acres), with a third of the town of Yarloop destroyed.

"I believe we've had what I would suggest [are] catastrophic losses within Yarloop," the state's Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Wayne Gregson told reporters.

"It appears that we've lost around 95 houses, a number of structures within the town site including some of the historical buildings."

Gregson said three or four people had minor injuries as a result of the blaze, which was fanned by strong winds, but added: "Sadly we have three people unaccounted for from Yarloop." Yarloop has a population of 500-600 with an estimated 250 homes.

Aerial footage showed houses reduced to just their brick fireplaces, leaving only blackened ground and the burnt-out shells of vehicles. Yarloop resident Ron Sackville told 6PR radio there was "very little" left.

"I look around 360 degrees and everything is burnt to a cinder. The fire was horrendous," he said. Another resident described the overnight emergency -- initially triggered by a lightning strike - as like the town was being hit by "fireballs".

"It was crazy. One fireball after another. The wind... it was unbelievable," Alex Jovanovich told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"It's devastating," he said of the damage. "There's bugger all left. The hall is gone. I believe the pub's gone. The workshops are gone. The old hospital is gone. I think the church is gone."

Hundreds of firefighters were battling the blaze, which has prompted evacuations and an emergency warning for nearby towns and surrounding areas.
"You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive. There is a threat to lives and homes," an official warning said.

Bushfires are a common feature of Australia's summer, with four people dying in November in Esperance in Western Australia's far south, and another two perishing in South Australia. "The fire is still uncontrolled, it is still very, very unpredictable," Gregson said.

- AFP/rw

Bushfire kills two in Australia’s south west; more towns evacuating
Two people have been killed, at least one other remains unaccounted for and more than 121 buildings have been destroyed by a bushfire that continues to burn out of control in Western Australia, police said on Saturday.
Channel NewsAsia 9 Jan 16;

PERTH: Two people have been killed, at least one other remains unaccounted for and more than 121 buildings have been destroyed by a bushfire that continues to burn out of control in Western Australia, police said on Saturday (Jan 9).

The remains of two men were found by authorities searching burnt-out buildings in the historic timber milling town of Yarloop, 120 km (75 miles) south of the capital, Perth, which was destroyed by the fire on Thursday, police confirmed. The men, both believed to be in their 70s, haven't been formally identified.

A state of emergency has been declared and residents evacuated from five nearby towns in the major beef and dairy farming area. Dairy farmers near the fire have been forced to dump thousands of litres of milk since Thursday as road closures prevent tankers being able to reach farms and power cuts prevent production.

Holiday makers in nearby coastal resorts have also been evacuated by ferry as exit roads remain cut and damaged by the fire.

The fire, ignited by a lightning strike on Wednesday, has now burned through some 67,000 hectares (166,000 acres) of land, is uncontained and has a 222 km perimeter. Firefighters have flown in from New South Wales to relieve fatigued local crews.Another large fire in the state's south east, west of the town of Esperance, is also burning out of control and threatening homes.

Wildfires are an annual summer event in Australia, but rising temperatures have prompted some scientists to warn that climate change could increase the length and intensity of the summer fire season.

Four people were killed in a series of bushfires sparked by lightning in Western Australia in November and more than 100 homes were destroyed in fires on Christmas Day in Victoria.Australia experienced its fifth hottest year on record in 2015, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, which has been keeping statistics since 1910.

- Reuters

Towns devastated as firefighters battle huge Australia bushfire
Two people have died and more than a hundred homes have been destroyed in a huge bushfire, Australian authorities said Sunday, as firefighters battled to tame the out-of-control blaze.
Channel NewsAsia 20 Jan 16;

Perth (Australia) - Two people have died and more than a hundred homes have been destroyed in a huge bushfire, Australian authorities said Sunday, as firefighters battled to tame the out-of-control blaze.

The inferno -- which has razed about 71,000 hectares (175,000 acres) in Western Australia state -- is the most recent in a series of bushfires that have kicked off a hot summer season, with the latest deaths lifting the national toll to eight.

The two bodies were found in burnt-out houses in Yarloop, a historic mill town some 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Perth that has been devastated by the bushfire -- one of the worst to hit the region in recent years.

The bodies are believed to be those of two missing men aged 73 and 77, Western Australia Police told AFP.

"It's just another day of catastrophe, isn't it?" local shire president Tania Jackson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation after news of the men's deaths.

"Each day that has gone by seems to bring worse news. It's devastating."

The bushfire -- which is entering its fifth day after reportedly being started by a lightning strike -- has destroyed 143 properties including 128 homes in Yarloop, the state's Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) told AFP.

The blaze has a perimeter of about 226 kilometres and has yet to be contained, but the 250 firefighters battling the flames were hoping to take advantage of the cooler weather on Sunday.

"Overnight and today, favourable conditions came in and it's a lot cooler here today and that has allowed firefighters to gain more ground on the fire and to increase containment lines," a DFES spokeswoman told AFP.

DFES said several towns in the region remained under threat.

"Unless you are ready and prepared to actively defend your property, evacuate to the south via the South Western Highway if safe to do so," it said in an emergency warning.

"The fire remains uncontained and is not yet controlled."

- 'Difficult bushfire season' -

Western Australia's Premier Colin Barnett said the event had been declared a natural disaster, a measure that gives residents access to greater financial support, adding that the "damage bill is going to be very significant".

Yarloop residents spoke of how the bushfire tore through their town in just seven minutes, as aerial footage showed blackened ground, burnt-out shells of vehicles and houses reduced to brick fireplaces.

"During the day, the hills were very dark and smoking," dairy farmer Joe Angi told the ABC on Saturday.

"But the wind picked up just on dark and she's just come down from the hills, straight down, flat out. It was tumbling over itself like a wave of fire."

Bushfires are common in Australia's hotter months, with four deaths in Western Australia last November. Another two people perished in neighbouring South Australia state in the same month.

DFES commissioner Wayne Gregson warned that the worst of the bushfire season was yet to come.

"There is still another 10 or more weeks to go in what is predicted to be a difficult bushfire season," Gregson told Perth's The Sunday Times.

"Late January to early February is traditionally the most intense summer period, when we can experience hot weather with dry winds and seasonal lightning."

Australia's worst firestorm in recent years devastated parts of the southern state of Victoria in 2009, destroying thousands of homes and killing 173 people.

- AFP/jb