PERTH, Australia: A bushfire raging outside the Western Australian (WA) city of Perth has forced nearby residents to evacuate, as the city remains in a coronavirus lockdown as the blaze, whipped up by strong winds, had doubled in size overnight to a 75 kilometres (46 miles) fire-front said officials.
Statistics by the authorities reveal that at least 56 homes have been gutted in a massive bushfire that continues to burn out of control east of Perth.
DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said that figure was likely to grow as teams completed their damage assessments.
The blaze has so far burnt through 7,300 hectares inside an 80-kilometre perimeter.
An emergency warning is in place for parts of the shires of Mundaring, Chittering and Northam, and the City of Swan, forcing dozens of residents to flee amid confusion over the COVID lockdown.
People have been told to flee to safety even if it means breaking lockdown.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said the state was facing an “extremely concerning and serious” situation.
“Right now WA is battling two different kinds of emergencies – a dangerous fire emergency and a Covid-19 lockdown emergency,” said McGowan.
However, he urged the majority of the state capital’s residents – not in harm’s way of the fire – to remain in their homes to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
By global standards, it is a very low risk as the city has reported just one local case. But the city of two million people entered a snap five-day lockdown on Sunday after that case – the first local infection in Western Australia in 10 months – was found.
More than 2,700 properties have been left without power as the fast-moving fire remains unpredictable, while two firefighters sustained minor injuries battling the blaze.
A large aerial tanker from NSW will arrive in WA today to help about 250 firefighters and aerial crews battle the blaze.
“The main task for today is to try to keep the fire within the boundary that we had this morning,” Commissioner Klemm said.
“We’ve had challenging conditions, but we’ve been able to deal with a couple of breakouts on the western edge and the southern flank.
“It’s still mid-afternoon, so we’ve still got a fair way to go.
“Today has been a much better day than we had yesterday.
“An additional large air tanker is on its way from NSW and will land here at half past five this afternoon.”
“It is going to be an extremely challenging day for everyone involved. Please do everything you can to keep you and your family safe and look after each other,” McGowan said.
The Wooroloo fire, first reported on Monday midday, has grown into a fast-moving blaze which overnight raced through the hills and valleys fringing the city’s north-west.
Perth residents woke up on Tuesday to a blanket of smoke across the city. People reported ash falling from the sky in locations 50km away from the fire-front.
Fire authorities told people living in the north-west semi-rural suburbs – including Ellenbrook, Averley and Brigadoon – that they were in “immediate danger” and needed to evacuate or enact their bushfire survival plans. Those in areas further afield have been told: “the best option is to leave early and to leave now”.
About 250 firefighters – who are wearing masks and socially distancing – are battling the blaze but struggling in the hot and windy conditions, said Western Australia deputy fire commissioner Craig Waters.
Perth is enduring 35C (95F) temperatures and has experienced a run of hot days as well as extended dry conditions.
Waters said historically, the area had not seen such large fires but “in the last few years, we have seen increased fire behaviour with rapid escalation overnight”.
“The changing climate… and moisture deficit in the soil is impacting how the fire behaves,” he said.