Firefighters say they were helpless to stop the ferocious flames as they roared through Parkerville yesterday, with one veteran volunteer describing it as the worst he had ever seen.
Mt Helena Bushfire Brigade firefighter Marty Longley, a volunteer of more than 20 years, was among the first on the scene and said he had never seen anything like it.
"It was frightening. There was nothing we could do. We felt helpless," he said.
"It just kept getting in front of us. We had to be very, very careful that we didn't get ourselves into a situation where we couldn't get out of.
"This is very bad. In 20 years this is the worst. There's such a feeling of helplessness. If other firefighters were doing what we were doing, there could be some people burnt."
He said volunteers were able to save a number of homes.
Mr Longley, a fly-in, fly-out worker and Mt Helena resident, arrived home from his shift as the fire tore through property north of his house.
Like so many others, he stood at the front of his property and stared up at the imposing black smoke as a helicopter flew above the blaze and dumped water.
Throughout Parkerville, and later Stoneville and Mt Helena, residents gathered outside their homes, at general stores and next to roadblocks, gripped by fear and confusion.
Stoneville resident Steve Foster and his wife were anxiously awaiting news of their Grenville Road property after being evacuated.
"We got the message and we looked outside and packed up our things and left," he said. "As soon as we smelt smoke, we were out.
"It was absolutely black, the flames were going crazy."
Parkerville resident Christine Jackson said: "People were frantically trying to get horses out of Sunninghill (equestrian centre) and I have no idea how they are."
Mark Schnell, of Stoneville, received a warning by text message while at work in Perth and returned to find his street blocked off.
"There's nothing we can do, we have to sit it out," he said. "I think it's going to be a while."