Concerns raised about the choice to lead an inquiry into fatal bushfire in Western Australia

The government of Western Australia is conducting an inquiry into the Waroona Bushfire that in early January, 2016 killed two people, burned 31,000 hectares (76,600 acres), and destroyed 95 homes near Yarloop. Some of the residents were evacuated by boat after they found themselves trapped between the Indian Ocean and the fire.

Below is an excerpt from an article in The Australian:

The man appointed to lead an ­independent inquiry into the ­Yarloop bushfire, Euan Ferguson, ran South Australia’s rural fire service when it was heavily criticised in a coronial report for failing to warn the public about a fire that killed nine people in 2005.

The finding is relevant because Mr Ferguson is now examining complaints from angry Yarloop residents that they also were not adequately warned about the blaze last month in which two people died.

Mr Ferguson was in charge of the Country Fire Service during the so-called Black Tuesday bushfire in Port Lincoln that destroyed 93 homes and wiped out 77,000ha of land [in 2005].

South Australia’s deputy coroner, Anthony Schapel, found the CFS under Mr Ferguson failed to adequately warn the public when the fire began and did not adequately respond to the fire.

“The community to the southeast and east of the fireground were unaware of the risk of the fire in many instances until it was too late,” Mr Schapel found in 2007.

“The fact of the matter was that no adequate measures were put in place or attempted which meant that opportunities to alter the outcome were not taken.

“Because the risk to the public was never properly addressed or appreciated, none of those measures were ever adequately considered. For the same reason no adequate warning was given.”

Yarloop residents say Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services failed to convey the danger they faced before the deadly bushfire destroyed their town on January 7.

The department did not issue its first emergency warning that explicitly mentioned Yarloop until 7.35pm — just minutes before the fire hit…

Two killed in Waroona Bushfire in Western Australia

The BBC reports that two people have been found dead in a very large bushfire south of Perth in Southwestern Australia. Police say the bodies of two men in their 70s were discovered in the debris of burnt-out houses in the town of Yarloop. Most of the structures in the town were destroyed when the Waroona Bushfire, pushed by strong winds, raged through the community.

The blaze continues to spread and threaten populated areas, but less intensely now, with less extreme weather conditions. An emergency warning was issued at 10:51 a.m. local time on January 9 for the following locations: Hamel, Cookernup, Yarloop, Harvey, east of Waroona and the surrounding areas. It doesn’t include the Waroona townsite.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services reports that the fire has consumed 70,876 hectares (175,000 acres) and 143 homes and outbuildings. It is being fought by 250 firefighters, 50 appliances including 38 heavy machines, air tankers, and helicopters. The fire perimeter is more than 140 miles.

(Click on the videos at the top and bottom of this article in order to view them.)

Waroona Fire emergency warning
The red icon represents the general location of the Emergency Warning due to the Waroona Bushfire in Western Australia.

 

Australia bushfire
Photo by @Nietzscheanac

At least 95 homes destroyed in Western Australia bushfire

Most of the homes in the Western Australia town of Yarloop were destroyed when a large bushfire marched through the area Thursday night.

Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Wayne Gregson said on Friday that 95 houses and numerous other public buildings burned, including the Steam Museum, the hotel, post office, town hall, and most of the school. There are no reports of fatalities.

The people that did not evacuate said many homes could have been saved but no water was available. The electrical power went out, which made it impossible to refill the town’s water tanks.

The remaining residents in Yarloop were going to evacuate to Pinjarra in a convoy of 30 vehicles protected on the journey by fire engines.

The latest community threatened by the Waroona Fire is the Harvey townsite, where the fire is 5 km northeast of the town and is moving toward the southwest. The effects of moderating weather have slowed the spread.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services reports that the fire has consumed 67,000 hectares (165,000 acres) and 121 homes, and is being fought by 250 firefighters, 50 appliances, air tankers, and helicopters. The fire perimeter is more than 138 miles.

The lightning caused fire was reported at 7:25 a.m. on January 6. It is being managed by an interagency Incident Management Team comprised of DFES, Parks and Wildlife, and local government personnel.

Massive bushfire in Western Australia causes evacuations, some by boat

Waroona Fire Keeley_rg
A pyrocumulus cloud over the Waroona Fire in Western Australia. Photo by Keeley_rg

A 31,000 hectare (76,600 acre) bushfire has forced the evacuation of several communities south of Perth in Western Australia. The fire is moving in a southwesterly direction through the areas of Waroona, Harvey, Lake Clifton, Yarloop, and Preston Beach. (map)

On Friday the forecast includes 60 km/hr (37 mph) winds out of the northeast.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services warned that for several areas it was too late for residents to leave and they should shelter in their homes. Some people in Preston Beach waded into the Indian Ocean where they were taken on board boats.

Evacuees on boat
Evacuees depart on a boat as a bushfire threatens the Preston Beach area south of Perth in Western Australia. Photo by Footprints Preston Beach Resort.

The DFES reported that the fire, unofficially called the Waroona Fire, is being fought by over 200 firefighters, 48 appliances, and 25 heavy machines. Air tankers and helicopters have also been assigned.

DFES Incident Controller Greg Mair said the South Western Highway could be closed for a few weeks because a wooden bridge at Samson Brook had sustained severe damage.

The lightning caused fire was reported at 7:25 a.m. on January 6. In the area where it crossed Forrest Highway there was a report that the flame height was 50 meters (164 feet).

At least four dead in Western Australia fire

Police in Western Australia have confirmed that four people have been killed in a vegetation fire in Western Australia on the south coast near Esperance. It is feared that two more may have also died.

From ABC.net:

…Fire and Emergency Services Regional Superintendent Trevor Tasker said the blaze at Salmon Gums was the worst he had ever seen.

“The wind and weather conditions … there was no stopping it,” he said.

Two of those killed are believed to be a farmer and one of his workers from Salmon Gums.

Superintendent Tasker said they are thought to have they crashed a car while trying to flee their farm.

“We believe that may be the case, but we really can’t say for sure,” he said.

There are four fires burning in the region, but the two most serious are at Grass Patch and Salmon Gums, 100 kilometres north of Esperance and at Stockyard Creek, 25 kilometres east of the town…

Fire Aviation has an article posted today about large air tankers from North America being deployed to Australia for their 2015/2016 summer bushfire season.

NSW sends 150 firefighters to assist in Western Australia

Firefighters at Sydney airport

This photo was posted at about 3 p.m. MST, February 2 (U.S. time) on the Facebook page for Shane Fitzsimmons, the Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in Australia. The firefighters from New South Wales are flying to Western Australia for five days to help with the large fires currently burning there. The latest report is that  80,500 hectares (197,000 acres) have been burnt in the blaze near Northcliffe.

Here is how the above photo was described:

Nice to catch up with our interstate fire fighting assistance team at Sydney Airport this morning, flying out to assist their colleagues in WA. 150 fire fighters and management specialists will be in WA for next 5 days and returning home Friday. The team incorporates members from NSW RFS, FR, NPWS, Forestry and Ambulance and are partnered with their ACT colleagues. Thanks again to all involved.

A day earlier, Commissiner Fitzsimmons wrote:

NSW RFS State Operations is currently coordinating the deployment of approximately 170 Fire Fighters, Incident Management and Specialist personnel to assist colleagues in Western Australia. This team will consist of personnel from NSW (NSWRFS, FRNSW, NPWS, FCNSW & ASNSW) as well as the ACT and NT. In addition to this request received last night, we have also provided an Air Crane, 16 tonnes of foam and 44 tonnes of retardant in recent days. Thanks everyone for offering to assist, our interstate colleagues certainly appreciate it. For latest information on WA bush fires follow this link
http://www.dfes.wa.gov.au/alerts/Pages/default.aspx