The West

UPDATE, 6.50pm: The devastating fire which raged through Perth's Hills destroyed or damaged at least 59 structures including homes and damaged another 28, according to the latest estimates from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority.

About 200 career and volunteer firefighters are still working to douse what is left of the blaze.

At about 6.55pm FESA downgraded the fire from an "emergency" to a "watch and act" alert, saying the bushfire was contained and under control.

"However people need to remain vigilant due to strong easterly winds in the area," FESA said.

There is still a possible threat to lives and homes as conditions are changing.

Firefighters are working to strengthen containment lines and will work throughout the evening.

FESA chief operating officer Craig Hynes said the fire, which started between Brookton Highway and Old Coach Place in Roleystone about 11.40am yesterday, was believed to have been sparked by someone using mechanical grinding equipment.

There are concerns wind could pick up again tonight.

FESA says it could be some time before residents are able to return to some areas.

Police have warned they may arrest people or take other action to stop people re-entering the fire zone.

FESA has said power poles and trees were falling "without warning" in the fire zone.

One woman who called ABC radio from the scene, said she had seen people desperate to reach their houses try to run past road closures.

A FESA spokesman urged people not to try and return to their houses, saying it would create more work for firefighters.

“If there are people inside the fire zone that will take operational staff away from what they do best,” he said. “If you go back in there that will cause further damage and actions like that could result in more homes being lost.”

The Bureau of Meteorology said the wind was expected to pick up by midnight.

Strong winds have been the main driver behind the fire’s quick spreading and spot fires from embers, which have started 100 metres from the fire.

Forecaster Graham Oakley said winds could pick up to 50kmh at midnight.

“We don’t have a heat problem, the problem with the fires is mainly a wind problem,” he said. “They will pick up again at midnight but won’t be as bad as they were today.”

Mr Oakley said Perth would not get a sea breeze today, which would also help fire fighters.

Close to 800 people congregated at a community meeting at the City of Armadale Arena this morning to find out more about their homes.

Are you in the fire zone? Email us your pictures or MMS 0402 228 221. |

Police have said they will remain at the fire zone to ensure people’s property remains secure from looters.

Premier Colin Barnett has declared the Hills area a natural disaster zone, ensuring people access to State Government assistance and funding.

FESA spokesman Alan Gale told ABC radio there were “probably people with their fingers crossed that their place was okay and others who had lost their place and then find out their houses are okay; it must be a traumatic thing to go through.”

One Kelmscott resident told ABC he only found out his house was burned down after his daughter saw it on a news website.

Residents waiting for news at the Armadale Recreation Centre.

The resident said one house below Brookton Highway sounded like “machine gun fire” as it burned after gas cylinders exploded in the blaze.

A former Conservation and Land Management general manager with more than 40 years experience said this morning the fire was made worst because the area had not been managed properly.

Roger Underwood, who is involved in lobby group Bush Fire Front, said his group had warned for several years that the Hills were ready to explode but the warnings were not heeded.

The fire had caused the collapse of Buckingham Bridge near Mount Street in Kelmscott, while on Sunset Terrace last night powerlines were down and there was a major gas leak.

The blaze, which came just four weeks after an arsonist sparked bushfires which razed eight homes in Lake Clifton, was still out of control this morning.

Firefighters battling the Brigadoon fire have contained the blaze.

Mr Hynes said the outbreak of fires had forced FESA to request assistance from eastern States firefighters to carry out the massive containment and clean-up efforts which would be required in the coming days.

Hundreds of Kelmscott and Roleystone residents were forced to abandon their houses yesterday afternoon, while others desperate to reach their properties were being turned back at roadblocks and forced to watch helplessly as smoke billowed from near their homes.

Kelmscott resident Phyllis Cusworth and her husband Alan, who were last night staying at their son's home after they were barred from reaching their Kevin Road property, said they were praying that their and other people's homes had made it through the fire.

"It's so terrible," she said. "We're just hoping all those other people are OK."

"It just seems crazy that over east they're flooded out and over here we are burning up."

More than 90 elderly residents from the Kelmscott River Gardens Aged Care home were evacuated and took refuge at Stargate Shopping Centre on Albany Highway yesterday afternoon.

Some of the elderly had to be moved on stretchers while others were pushed in wheelchairs or managed to walk unassisted into the cool air at the foyer of the IGA supermarket.

Some of the residents looked bewildered by the sudden move but most took it in their stride.

FESA announced a total fire ban for today for Perth, the Perth Hills, Mandurah, inland parts of the Central Wheatbelt and the Central West.

The West Australian

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