South West crews fight nine fires in one week

This photo was taken along Vasse Highway last Thursday. Image supplied by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
This photo was taken along Vasse Highway last Thursday. Image supplied by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

Volunteer firefighters across the South West attended nine different fires last week, said City of Busselton community emergency services manager Blake Moore.

More than 100 volunteers from 12 bush fire brigades and 6 fire and rescue brigades were involved in fighting the fires.

Dry conditions experienced during May and early June, along with high winds and gusts which lashed the region at more than 100 kilometres per hour made for extreme fire conditions.

A complete fire ban was issued last week, which urged residents to wet down and monitor any fires which had been lit in the last three weeks.

Mr Moore said while it was in the open burning times and people were doing right thing in reducing the fuel load on their properties, the unprecedented weather experienced in the last three weeks resulted in extremely dry bush that had the potential to reignite unnoticed.

"The heavy rainfall has reduced the risk of bushfire, but this does not mean people can be complacent. People must continue to heed fire warnings and burning prohibitions when they are issued," he said.

"If people are conducting burns on their private property they should remain in attendance until the fire is out and then continue to monitor twice a day for at least two weeks afterwards."

As strong winds struck last Thursday, five bushfires broke out within the City of Busselton, the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River and the Shire of Donnybrook-Balingup.

The town of Jarrahwood was evacuated and an emergency warning issued for people who stayed to defend their properties, stating it was too deadly to leave.

An emergency warning was also issued for a bushfire which broke out at the Vasse Plantation near Canebrake advising people to leave if it was still safe.

A Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction's spokesperson said severe weather conditions resulted in the escape of post-harvest pine debris heap burns in Jarrahwood, Vasse and Baudin plantations.

A Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction spokesperson said burns commenced following a significant 20 millimetre rainfall event on May 16, which was well in advance of the severe weather event.

"The last ignitions of these burns were undertaken between May 21 and May 24," the spokesperson said.

"Following ignition these burns were regularly attended by ground crews and monitored by aerial patrols in the period leading up to June 6.

"Due to the efforts of firefighters from DBCA's Parks and Wildlife Service, DFES, FPC and volunteer bushfire brigades who were working under extreme conditions, no properties were lost as a result of these bushfires.

"DBCA will be undertaking a review to examine what led to the escapes from these heap burns and how the risk of escapes in the future might be more effectively mitigated.

"DBCA will be working closely with the Office of Bushfire Risk Management and the Forest Products Commission during this review process."

Approximately, 1397 hectares were burnt at Jarrahwood, 72 hectares at the Vasse Plantation and 600 hectares at Baudin.

Students and staff at Margaret River Independent School were evacuated on Thursday after a bushfire alert in the Forest Grove area.

"Margaret River Independent School decided to enact the Closure of the School and Evacuation under our Critical Incident and Emergency Plan / Bushfire Management Plan," said school chairperson Jessica Worrall.

"At approximately 12 noon, students, staff and parents on campus were evacuated using two buses and conveyed to the dedicated evacuation point at Margaret River Recreation Centre. Parents were notified to pick up their children from the Recreation Centre."

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said the situation in Jarrahwood could have been far worse and praised the efforts of volunteers and staff from Parks and Wildlife who worked hard to save the community.

"It was in fact, escalated mid-morning to a DFES level 3 complex incident which is the highest level of emergency incidents," he said.