Fire authorities have been forced to defend their actions after a “full-on war with mother nature” in Western Australia’s southwest that destroyed 143 structures and killed two people.
The blaze, which was sparked by lightning on Wednesday, killed two elderly men and wiped out most of the small community of Yarloop, where 128 homes were lost.
But the Department of Fire and Emergency Services has been criticised for what some Yarloop residents claim was a lack of communication about the severity of the threat, including the Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, which said they received no assistance or warnings for people to leave.
DFES Commissioner Wayne Gregson defended the process and said firefighters were exhausted after battling the giant blaze for several days.
“Over the past four or five days we have been at full-on war with mother nature, I’m told we have not seen a firestorm of this magnitude, in terms of the size,” he told 6PR radio on Monday.
“It can be compared to the greater metropolitan area of Perth from Rockingham to Clarkson and out to Midland – this has been a significant endeavour by all of the response agencies.”
Mr Gregson said there would later be a detailed examination of the decisions made and warnings issued for Yarloop.
“There have been a number of issues raised with me concerning warnings, concerning water supply, concerning the availability of personnel, and we will look at that, but at this point in time it’s too early for me to make comment,” he said.
Mr Gregson said residents were told not to stay to defend their properties without a plan and to not rely on the local water and electricity supply, adding the blaze could not be defended with a garden hose.
“I sometimes think people don’t recognise the enormity of the fire front,” he said.
“I don’t believe anything could have stopped that fire impacting Yarloop.
“Fires get to a point where they just cannot be defended, either from a frontal attack or by the air.”
But the brother of 77-year-old Vietnam veteran Les Taylor, who is believed to have perished in the fire, says he does not blame authorities.
“I don’t think there’s any cause for blame on the death of my brother, I think it’s just a sad circumstance,” Bruce Taylor said.
“He just wasn’t able to be alerted.”
The other victim is believed to be 73-year-old cancer survivor Malcolm Taylor, who told family he was staying put.
Police are yet to formally identify human remains found at the two homes.
The bushfire threat weakened overnight with a watch and act issued for east of Waroona, Hamel, the Harvey town, Cookernup, Yarloop and surrounding areas.
An advice level is in place for the Waroona town, Preston Beach, Lake Clifton, Binningup, Myalup and Pamelup Estate.
Harvey and Waroona residents can now return to their properties through vehicle control points.
The cost of the deadly blaze has climbed to $60 million and is expected to rise, the Insurance Council of Australia says.
Western Power is working to restore electricity.
Four firefighters have been injured in the fire, which has burnt more than 71,100 hectares and is contained but not controlled.