Wineries forced to shut as fire threatens farms
Wineries forced to shut as fire threatens farms

Fallen powerlines caused a potentially devastating fire in WA's premier wine region yesterday, prompting five-star wineries to shut and creating havoc on busy roads at the end of the school holidays.

About 160 firefighters were hampered by howling south-easterly winds and high temperatures as they battled two serious fires in the South West, in Wilyabrup and 80km further south at Nillup.

The Wilyabrup fire broke out on Yalambi horse stud on Yelverton Road, between Busselton and Margaret River, just before 7am.

Thirty horses and 35 people in six homes directly threatened by the fire were evacuated. The fire was next to Chapman's Creek Vineyard and Rosily Vineyard and not far from Willespie wines.

The City of Busselton emergency services manager Tim Wall said all possible resources were thrown at the fire which stopped it from becoming a major incident.

"There were also very low fuel loads on private properties," he said.

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority said that the cause of the fire, which burnt through 20ha, was accidental.

A Western Power spokeswoman said it appeared the Wilyabrup fire started when a big tree fell on to powerlines, bringing them to the ground.

The spokeswoman said investigators found the tree was about 8m from the powerlines when it fell, meaning it was not required to be pruned by Western Power, private property owners or the local council.

More than 80 firefighters battled successfully to contain the blaze by mid-morning and it was under control at 5pm.

The threat of the bushfire encroaching on properties prompted some wineries to send staff home and close their doors on what had promised to be one of their busiest days. Wills Domain managing director Darren Haunold said he closed the cellar doors because of the fire threat.

"We'd prepared all our hazard management plans and as FESA gave us a fairly high warning, with the possibility of this fire getting out of control, we felt it was best to send our staff home and not put anyone at risk for the day," he said.

Mr Haunold said the devastating November bushfire in Margaret River, which razed 32 homes, meant the community was especially nervous about fire.

"From the events of November last year, we all pricked our ears up," he said.

Further south in Nillup, about 20km south-east of Margaret River, beef farmers battled to save at least two farms which were threatened by a fire which burnt about 100ha.

Late yesterday, the fire was still out of control but contained.

The West Australian

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