A fast-moving bush fire destroyed at least 40 homes in Perth, Western Australia, with one man dying as he prepared for the approaching inferno.
The blaze, thought to have been started by a fallen power line in the city’s wooded outskirts on Sunday, was fanned by hot, strong gusts that saw 20-metre flames tear through residential streets, officials said yesterday.
“It has been confirmed that 40 homes have been lost at this stage, but this number is expected to increase as damage assessments continue throughout the day,” Western Australia state’s fire and emergency services department said.
Media reports put the number at 44, comprising 40 in the district of Stoneville and four in Parkerville.
The ambulance service said a man aged 62 had died after collapsing on the roof of his house as he prepared for the blaze.
Hundreds of residents fled their homes for evacuation centres and were anxiously awaiting news yesterday. Some said they had only seconds to escape.
“We obviously knew that the fire was moving pretty quickly,” Stoneville resident Aaron Miles told the ABC. “We just went for the important stuff – hard drive, documents. Everything else is technically replaceable if it comes to that.”
Officials said the blaze had been contained but not controlled and warned that there was still a risk to life and property if conditions shifted.
There were 275 firefighters still battling the flames that had already burnt through 650 hectares.
“If you are not at home, do not try to return as conditions in the area could be very dangerous,” the fire service said.
“If you are at home, do not try to leave as conditions in the area could be very dangerous and you will not be able to return.”
Perth sweltered through a heatwave over the weekend with temperatures reaching 44 degrees Celsius. That heat system is now moving east across the continent, with temperatures in excess of 40 degrees forecast in Adelaide and Melbourne this week.
Hospitals and emergency services were on standby.
“We’re really looking at a fairly extreme heatwave where temperatures are going to reach into the 40s for quite a number of days in a row,” a bureau of meteorology spokesman said.
Some swimming pools, shopping centres and public libraries will offer extended opening hours and the Red Cross will make regular calls to at-risk residents, particularly the sick and elderly, to check on their welfare.
South Australia’s health department urged residents to stay indoors, wear cool clothing and drink plenty of water.
Bush fires are a common feature of Australia’s December-February summer months, with a devastating firestorm in 2009 killing 173 people and razing thousands of homes in south-eastern Victoria state.