Margaret River community grapples with dangerous bushfire as memories of the 2011 destructive fire resurface


As summer has only just begun, Western Australians have had a telling taste of what the months ahead may hold in store for them.

Authorities already expected the state to increase fire potential this year.

“It only takes a hot and windy day for a bushfire to start,” Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Deputy Commissioner John Broomhall said last month.

That day arrived in the Margaret River region on Wednesday, when a bushfire that has since destroyed more than 6,000 hectares, much of precious forest, was first reported.

The fire near Margaret River broke out on Wednesday.(Provided: Sean Blocksidge)

Although the fire continues to pose a significant risk to residents of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, this location allowed private properties to be largely spared from the fire.

But for many, that doesn’t alleviate their concerns.

As the fire continues to rage, the ABC has spoken to residents who still accept the disaster unfolding on their doorstep.

Blaze reminiscent of devastating fires

For some, the blaze was reminiscent of a blaze that ravaged the region just over 10 years ago, destroying 39 homes and damaging 26 others in one of the state’s worst bushfire disasters.

This is the case with Adrian Wilson, who lives in Gnarabup, just north of the current fire alert zones.

A man in a car in sunglasses
Adrian Wilson was concerned when he saw clouds forming above the blaze – just like in 2011, he says.(ABC News)

He said yesterday’s conditions were “almost a repeat” of 2011.

“It’s incredibly scary,” Wilson said.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be downwind of the fire and smoke like it was in 2011.

“There are pyrocumulus clouds forming above this fire because it is very hot.

“It brings back bad memories of 2011.”

According to the Keelty Inquiry, which followed the disaster, a prescribed burn broke its boundaries and turned into a wildfire.

Margaret River bush burns wildly
Journalists are led through a burnt out bush after a bushfire swept through Margaret River in 2011.(PAA: Tony McDonough)

Smoke quickly blanketed the nearby town of Margaret River, as the flames spread through the heart of the surfing community of Prevelly.

In total, 3,400 hectares of land were burned.

“It was our prescribed burn and it escaped and it caused terrible damage,” the then environment ministry chief said at the time.

“We accept it. We accept responsibility for it.”

“Things are replaceable”: the inhabitants ready to flee

Carolyn Forte lives on a farm in the Emergency Alert Zone near Witchcliffe and described the scene as she fled her property yesterday.

“It was mountainous and the colors were turning deep black and sometimes you would see that kind of pink glow,” she said.

“The water bombers flying above us, they look so massive. I took a picture of one against one of those streams of smoke and it looked so small and insignificant.” , she said.

“I’m just stunned when I think about what these firefighters are doing.”

A woman and a miniature horse
Carolyn Forte lives on a farm in the Emergency Alert Zone near Witchcliffe.(Provided: Mark Robertston)

She said her biggest concern as firefighters continue to fight the blaze was the safety of her neighbors.

“I looked around and thought … clothes and books and all that is all replaceable.”

“It’s the people that matter and the rest is just the stuff.”

She said she was grateful that no property has been destroyed so far.

“It is the bush, which is tragic but it is not a loss of human life or of houses”,

“The last fire ten years ago caused so much damage to people’s homes and we just hope this one doesn’t do the same.”

The fire “licked at the edge” of the houses

Rob Gerardi, winemaker and owner of Mr Barval Fine Wines in Margaret River said he had never seen a fire so close to his cellar before.

“It’s been a pretty stressful few days,” he said.

A man in a cap and green shirt standing on a road
Rob Geradi hopes to return home today.(ABC News: Anthony Pancia)

“I was living here during the last big fire 10 years ago and saw the damage it caused, but it was for sure a little more within arm’s length.”

Mr Gerardi said that despite the raging fire, he hopes to return to town with his family today.

“When you leave behind two years of work, your cellar and your cellar door stock and the artwork that we have there and everything, and just not knowing… I find it really difficult but it’s about time to go back to town and see the wife and children, ”he said.

Burning bush next to a firebreak
The fire has come dangerously close to some dwellings in Boranup Forest.(Provided: Sean Blocksidge)

“The fires threatened us … sort of three or four times, very, very close. He literally licked the border in a few places but only luckily with the weather and I think a lot. incredible work by firefighters.

“So they did a pretty amazing job of saving all the property on this side and we are keeping our fingers crossed for all the farmland south of us that they may have done the same.”

Mike Rumble, who lives in Redgate, near Caves Road in the emergency area, said firefighters went beyond to tackle the blaze.

An older man with glasses stands by the roadside
Mike Rumble says firefighters saved his property.(ABC News: Anthony Panica)

“It was a little scary, of course it still is. It happened a few miles away from us, but with the technology that we have these days and the way it is used by firefighters, we are able. to keep pace so far, ”he said.

“They reacted incredibly quickly… They closed the roads quickly, efficiently, but the most important thing is that, since most of our fires are voluntary, they are extinguished around the clock and they have done a wonderful job and incredible .”

Little acts of kindness go a long way

Local cafe owner Rachel Yugovich said the mood was dark throughout the community.

She said everyone is coming together to try and support the firefighting efforts.

The cafe is one of many companies offering free food and drink to emergency personnel to thank them for their frontline efforts.

Free cafe signs in Margaret River
A local cafe supports the firefighters with free drinks.(Provided: Rachel Yugovich)

“You feel helpless when you’re not volunteering… and just want to do something,” Ms. Yugovich said.

“[Offering free drinks] is just a way to show our appreciation… it’s just like we all come together to help and show our appreciation.

“All of these little acts can go a long way and make a difference for those people who are doing it hard for us and trying to get it under control.”


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