18 Nov 2015

Four dead as bushfires rage out of control

11:58 am on 18 November 2015

Four people have died in bushfires burning out of control near Esperance on Western Australia's south coast.

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.

Crews are on the scene fighting the blaze but have not been able to stop the fires, which were started by lightning strikes and are now burning out of control.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said all available resources in the town were fighting both blazes.

Two smaller fires are also burning at Thomas River and Mt Rugged in the Cape Arid National Park, but they are not threatening property.

DFES said people in Stockyard Creek and Mullet Lakes in Merivale in the Shire of Esperance needed to act immediately to survive.

They have advised people to leave now for a safer place if the way is clear, and that "leaving at the last minute is deadly".

"If your plan is to stay and actively defend, do not rely on mains water pressure as it may be affected," a DFES statement said.

"If you have access to a water tank and plan to defend your home, start patrolling with your hose and put out spot fires.

"If you cannot leave, you need to get ready to shelter in your home and actively defend it.

"If you are not at home, it is too dangerous now to return."

DFES Chief Superintendent Murray Bawden said there were reports of three homes being lost in the fires.

"Hundreds of local fires and dozens of appliances are going to be working tirelessly for the next three to four days to contain these fires and at this stage we've got reports of potentially three homes lost and we're continuing our efforts," he said.

Mr Bawden said expert teams were en route from Perth to the affected areas.

"Experts in rapid assessment and fire investigation [are heading to the affected areas], so as soon as we get some real data our first priority will be to discuss with the community and families if necessary and the greater community," he said.

"We had some 111 incidents sparked by lightning yesterday so quite significant, but most importantly in the Great Southern Area around Esperance area, extreme weather conditions, with high winds, some of the wind gusts around 93 kilometres.

"Two fires of considerable concern to us are in the Merivale area, 20 kilometres east of Esperance and the Cascades area 47 kilometres north west of Esperance, they have the potential to impact on town sites and right now we are also evacuating, encouraging people to hop on a bus with escorts."

Mr Bawden said weather conditions today were much more favourable than yesterday.

"The key thing for us is the fire's now come out into an accessible area largely in the paddocks and across the pastoral lands," he said.

"We're expecting much higher relative humidity and dew point today and much less wind speeds around 20 kilometre per hour, which should allow fire-fighters the opportunity to get around the head of the fire and then we can start mopping up over the next four or five days."