24 Nov 2023

At least 10 homes lost as bushfire emergency continues in Perth's north

4:21 pm on 24 November 2023
PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 06: Parks and Wildlife crew secure a Reene Road in Gidgegannup on February 06, 2021 in Perth, Australia. Fire crews have managed to contain almost all of the bushfires that have been burning across the Perth hills for the last five days. The fires destroyed 86 homes and burned through almost 11,000 hectares of land. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

Parks and Wildlife crews at work in February 2021 in Perth during bushfires that destroyed 86 homes. Photo: Getty Images / Paul Kane

Fire crews have spent a second night battling a large bushfire in Perth's north-east, with better conditions offering some respite for residents and authorities.

The blaze began on Wednesday in the Gnangara Pine Plantation in the city's northern suburbs and quickly spread west, fanned by strong winds and extreme heat.

Despite the best efforts of firefighters, 10 homes and several other structures have been confirmed lost.

The majority of the destruction has been identified in the semi-rural suburb of Mariginiup, while residential areas in Tapping and Banksia Grove have also been hit.

An emergency warning remains in place for parts of Jandabup, Melaleuca, Wanneroo and Mariginiup.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said on Friday morning that the fire was 95 percent contained but remained uncontrolled.

"There's been favourable conditions overnight due to the lighter winds and high humidity, which means we've been able to reduce some of the warning areas," DFES incident controller Scott Hares said.

"But it's important that community members stay alert and go to Emergency WA to check where those boundaries are because conditions can change anytime."

Concern over wind change

After back-to-back days of temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius, Perth experienced a cool change overnight as it fell to 19C just before 4am on Friday.

A forecast maximum temperature of 35C has now been revised to 33C, but of greater concern to authorities is an expected change of wind direction from north-east to south-west.

"[This morning] is critical to our effort," Hares said.

"We're going to really work hard to consolidate containment lines in advance of that wind change."

With the evacuation centre at Quinns Rocks at capacity, authorities late on Thursday opted to open the Bullsbrook Covid-19 quarantine centre.

Hares said 19 people spent the night at the facility, while more were likely to be sent there as the fire remained a threat.

Fears of more property losses

In addition to the emergency warning, a watch and act alert stands for Sinagra, Ashby, Tapping and Banksia Grove.

Hares said it was likely other properties had been lost, but the extent of the damage was yet to be fully identified.

"We've completed about 80 percent of our rapid damage assessments and we're going to recommence them at first light," he said.

"To those that have lost their homes, your loss is felt very firmly by us. We stand with you in these difficult and stressful times."

More than 100 firefighters continue to battle the blaze across a front that now stretches for more than 50 kilometres.

With approximately 1850 hectares of land lost, aerial bombers will resume their efforts to stop the spread of the blaze at first light.

Hundreds of other staff and volunteers are assisting the community and residents at the two evacuation centres in Bullsbrook and Quinns Rock.

Power has been disrupted across a wide area, with poles and wires brought down throughout the fire zone.

Western Power said more than 100 poles had been damaged, with the number set to rise once a full assessment can be completed.

Residents recount fleeing homes

Banksia Grove resident Graham Last has spent the last two nights at the Quinns Rocks evacuation centre with his wife and three children after they were forced to flee their home.

"I managed to get my wife and children and they came straight here. I stayed [at home] for a couple of hours, until the fire was a couple of metres away," he said.

"It's the first time in 23 years I've been really, really scared and thought, 'no, I need to go'.

"We came with the clothes on our back, the dog and nothing else."

Last said his home had survived the fire and he was hoping to return today, something he said would be a "massive relief".

"It was scary to be in this situation, but the fact we had this support was unbelievable," he said of the evacuation centre.

"To say that we've been looked after is an understatement … It meant everything to us as a family."

Tapping resident Mel Davers was told by firefighters to evacuate as flames engulfed the bushland across the street from her home.

"I kept having to remind myself, we are all here, things can be replaced," she said.

"It was so scary … the reality of the fact that our house could absolutely burn down was very, very scary."

Davers said she came back to help put out flames into the early hours of morning.

"All my cousins that live up the street, they came back and helped us fight the fire as well while my sister cared for all the children," she said.

Blaze leaves ground 'moonscaped'

DFES district officer Ryan Bulluss said the fire had left patches of ground very burnt with "absolutely nothing left behind".

"An ad hoc term we use is 'moonscaped', because it's burnt with such an intensity and such a heat that it's left nothing behind," he said.

"What we're seeing out here is a complete bare moonscaping of the landscape, where all the fuel is removed and the ground is just left white with ash."

He said the last time he had seen a fire of such intensity was the Wooroloo blaze in Perth's east in February 2021.

"When we had the fire run from through Wooroloo and the hills there, [it was] the same sort of speed and ferocity and temperature running on the same sort of winds in the same sort of conditions," he said.

"Normally we wouldn't expect to see something of this intensity this early in the season."

Wanneroo schools escape damage

Education Department director-general Lisa Rodgers said the fire stopped just 500 metres short of East Wanneroo Primary School and Wanneroo Secondary College.

Both schools are closed today and remain in the watch and act warning zone.

This story was first published by the ABC.

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