The West Australian township of Shady Hills has been saved after it was threatened by an out-of-control bushfire in the Perth hills, authorities say.
The WA premier, Mark McGowan, said on Thursday it was “truly remarkable” that the township had been saved “given the ferocity of the fire”. He also revealed the number of known property losses from this week had been revised up to 81.
“As far as we know, no additional homes have been lost overnight, thanks to the incredible work of our fireys,” McGowan told reporters.
But, he said, the overall toll from the Wooroloo fire, which started on Monday, was “almost too much to comprehend”.
By Thursday afternoon, authorities said crews had completely stopped any spread to Shady Hills and Avon Ridge, two of the areas that were of most concern.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) deputy commissioner, Craig Waters, said although 90% of the fire had been mapped that did not mean they had brought it under control.
“Crews worked extremely hard, in trying conditions, and managed to stop any spread to Shady Hills and Avon ridge,” Waters said.
“The strong winds will pose some troubles and issues overnight [into Friday], however, the consistent wind direction will hopefully enable us to avoid having to deal with outbreaks in unexpected areas.”
The deputy commissioner said the key focus was the northern side of the blaze. “Crews will be focusing on managing any hop-overs or any breakaways, as well as consolidating the containment lines they’ve already established,” he said.
The rugged terrain had posed multiple challenges to the firefighters, with Waters saying they had resorted to “old-fashioned” tools to combat the fire.
DFES commissioner, Darren Klemm, had earlier said a strategy to lay fire retardant lines helped contain the fast-moving fire overnight but conditions continued to prove difficult to manage.
“No loss of homes overnight was a great outcome, and it is a credit to the strategies that were put in place by the incident management team, and backed up by the firefighters on the ground in incredibly difficult conditions overnight,” he said.
“Today we’ve got over 260 firefighters on the fire ground. All of the aircraft are in use currently except for the fixed-wing water bombers due to the wind.”
The City of Swan mayor, Kevin Bailey, told the ABC there were unconfirmed reports of at least one additional home destroyed in the township of Bullsbrook.
“I think there’s an expectation we’ll have some more,” he said.
The fire was burning through thick, dense uphill terrain with 70km/h easterly gusts pushing it north-west towards the city’s coastal plain.
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 the ABC 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.”
A number of firefighters had been injured while tackling the blaze with some suffering minor burns. A man was taken to Royal Perth hospital with hip injuries after he fell out of a vehicle. He was in a stable condition.
The local mayor said very few people had decided to stay in the area overnight.
“I was in Shady Hills last night, and there wasn’t a lot of people around at all that we could see in terms of house lights on,” Bailey said. “Very, very, very little traffic, if any, within the entire township of Bullsbrook. So, I don’t think there’s a lot of people that have decided to stay in Shady Hills, particularly.”
The DFES warned people in Gidgegannup to actively defend their homes only if they were prepared to the highest level.
A full list of areas with evacuation or shelter in place orders was available on the DFES emergency map.
With the fire raging since Monday, many people had been forced to shelter in evacuation centres for multiple days, but Bailey said spirits were still high.
“They’re very upbeat. Because it is only early, we haven’t got that impatient need to get back home. They understand that we’re still dealing with a very aggressive fire that is far from under control and contained,” he said.
An air quality warning was issued for the northern suburbs of Perth as the wind blew heavy smoke towards the city. Communities north of Gnangara Road and Ocean Reef Road had been told to turn on their headlights and drive slowly as smoke could reduce visibility on the road. Drivers were told to pull over if the smoke became too dense.
“The smoke is not expected to clear for another several days,” the warning stated.
The federal government announced one-off disaster recovery payments to those who had been impacted by the fire, with $1,000 available for adults and $400 for children.