An area larger than Perth torched by out-of-control bushfire in WA


Updated

October 20, 2018 11:31:55

An area larger than Perth has been torched as an out-of-control bushfire burns in the country’s north-west.

Volunteer firefighters, Indigenous rangers and pastoralists are battling the fire approximately 150km south of Broome, using helicopters and strategic backburning to contain the blaze.

Kimberley Regional Duty Coordinator Ben Mueller said the fire was caused by lightning on October 11 and has since grown to burn more than 870,000 hectares.

“To put that in perspective, if you were to drive around that it would be 880 kilometres,” he said.

“Everyone has really pitched in to try to bring this under control.”

Fighting fire with fire

Emergency services use control lines, also known as firebreaks, with strategic backburning to contain fires this size.

“You can’t put water on a fire that big because it is ineffective,” Mr Mueller said.

Crew use a range of tools including graders, front-end loaders, fire trucks, aircraft, as well as drip torches to create control lines and back burn.

A team decides where control lines can be placed, taking into account a range of factors including weather and cultural sensitivities.

“We’ll say, ‘Right, this is where we can realistically put a control line’, or if we can use an existing break we will do that,” he said.

Extra crew and volunteers were flown from Perth to help with the logistics.

“It’s fantastic to see a statewide effort for the Kimberley,” Mr Mueller said.

Due to the size and location of the fire, workers had to drive more than two hours from Broome every day or use helicopters to get to the emergency zone.

“It’s one hour to fly the length of the fire — the distances are quite big,” Mr Mueller said.

Resort full of people under threat

Located in the remote Kimberley, a resort and some pastoral stations have been the only properties under threat.

When the wind changed early this week, emergency crews were forced to shut Great Northern Highway — National Route 1 — and prepare the resort and stations for evacuation.

Eco Beach Resort manager Jessica Martin said they were prepared for an evacuation.

“We had about 57 people here including guests and staff,” she said.

“We packed food and drink into eskies and packed wet towels.

“We had all of the guests and staff in for a safety meeting and gave everybody the opportunity to evacuate the resort.”

But Ms Martin said they were prepared for natural disasters, including cyclones.

With Great Northern Highway closed, the Kimberley’s only access road from the south, the two-day closure left travellers and trucks stranded, including supplies for the region’s grocery stores.

Shelves have been restocked and the highway re-opened on Thursday morning, after firefighters said they managed to get the blaze under control in that area.

Two-thirds of pastoral station burnt

Janice Bell, who owns Thangoo Station with her family, said they were prepared for fires this large, but said it was a team effort to bring them under control.

“When you’re faced with a massive front like this fire had, you need to control [it] and save what you … can,” she said.

Two-thirds of Thangoo Station have been burnt, but most of the essential grazing land was saved.

Ms Bell said she expected minimal loss to livestock as a result.

“To save the other third, which is where the major grazing areas and the infrastructure are, was a major bonus,” she said.

“So our livelihoods can continue on.”

Topics:

emergency-planning,

bushfire,

derby-6728,

broome-6725

First posted

October 20, 2018 10:47:28



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