Thousands of homes are now under threat as the Perth hills bushfire continues to rage out of control on the outskirts of the city.
The fire has destroyed at least 71 homes, but there were fears that number would rise as the blaze moved towards the Shady Hills area.
The fire was burning through thick, dense uphill terrain with 70km/h easterly gusts pushing it north-west towards the city’s coastal plain. More than 250 firefighters were working to contain the blaze, with the assistance of 21 aircraft including two aerial tankers, but still, crews have had little luck quelling the inferno.
Incident controller Peter Sutton said fire retardant lines would be tested by winds on Thursday.
“We had a number of properties which became under threat overnight, including in the Avon Ridge Estate, around the Great Northern Highway, and also Shady Hills came under threat, as well as properties in Clinton Road,” he told ABC news on Thursday morning.
“The Shady Hills area was one of our biggest concerns, and the fire ran up the Avon Ridge, Avon Valley there into Shady Hills and was successfully stopped by the retardant line that we dropped yesterday. So the large air tanker dropped 11 loads yesterday and a total of 200,000 litres of retardant.
“Today we’re going to experience strong easterly winds over the fire ground, which will still test those boundaries on the western and northern side. And we expect there to be some concerns today, so we ask members of the public to be vigilant.”
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services duty assistant commissioner, Rick Curtis, said on Wednesday evening that it was no longer safe for people in Shady Hills and east Bullsbrook to stay and try to defend their homes, telling them to leave immediately.
“We would prefer to lose a house than lose a life. That’s what it comes down to,” he said.
“Ground crews and aerial suppression efforts are struggling to contain the forward movement of that fire.”
For those still in the Shady Hills estate, east Bullsbook areas, or on Clenton and Berry Road in Gidgegannup, it is now too late to leave. Authorities say fleeing now ‘“would be deadly.”
“You must shelter before the fire arrives, as the extreme heat will kill you well before the flames reach you,” the alert from DFES said.
The DFES has warned people in Gidgegannup only to actively defend their homes if they are prepared to the highest level.
A full list of areas with evacuation or shelter in place orders can be found using the DFES emergency map.
Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services deputy commissioner operations, Craig Waters, said the shifting wind was making life tough for firefighters.
“We’ve had three outbreaks … one on the north-west corner of the fire which is going to threaten Shady Hills in a couple of hours,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“Tonight, given the terrain, will be extremely dangerous.”
The blaze had also broken containment lines on the south-west corner of the fire near Avon Ridge Estate and to the north along Berry Road in Gidgegannup.
“One of the biggest issues is the terrain around the fire areas, it’s very steep … a lot of valleys, a lot of hills, so we’re experiencing really flukey winds,” Waters said.
“The fire has [also] been spotting well ahead of the main head fire.
“We’re asking all community members [in warning areas] to enact their fire plan.”
The premier, Mark McGowan, said WA was enduring an unprecedented crisis.
“We’re facing disasters on two fronts – the devastating bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said, referring to a five-day lockdown for metropolitan Perth, the Peel region and the south-west.
“The fire has devastated our community. We know that 71 homes have been lost and that number is expected to rise.”