'''UPDATE 11.15am:''' The fire alert for Greenbushes and areas to the south has been downgraded as firefighters continue to build containment lines ahead of the blaze.

The historic Southampton Homestead was gutted after a string of fires blazed a path of destruction through four shires in the South West yesterday.

The heritage-listed property, which was built in 1862 and is about 12km south of Balingup, was one of two properties destroyed when fires started by lightning ripped through the shires of Nannup, Donnybrook-Balingup, Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Manjimup.

It is understood the homestead's owner Jeff Pow caught a flight to Perth from London last night after hearing the news. A home 900m away was also destroyed.

In a statement, Mr Pow said his family were devastated at the loss of their home.

He thanked firefighters and neighbours for risking their lives trying to save the homestead.

Residents were forced to flee their homes as the ferocious blaze spread through more than 3000ha. More than 150 residents of the region gathered at the Bridgetown Recreational Centre last night.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services deputy incident controller Danny Mosconi said the terrain and wind made it difficult to contain the fires.

More than 200 firefighters had battled tirelessly to bring them under control.

They were assisted by six water bombers and two helicopters.

"At the peak of today there were nine separate fires and crews have been working all day to get it under control," Mr Mosconi said.

Last night, the town of Greenbushes was under threat from a fire that had started west of the Blackwood River.

That fire was described as out of control and unpredictable.

An emergency warning was issued for residents living in Greenbushes, Hester Brook, Wandillup, Maranup and Southampton.

Greenbushes and Balingup primary schools will be closed today because of the bushfires.

The Bibbulmun Track was closed between Balingup and Donnelly River Village.

Bridgetown resident Dennis Lingane said he listened in horror as radio announcements indicated the blaze was heading towards his property.

"We are just being told that we have to evacuate or stand and fight and frankly I don't think any possessions are worth lives so we will just go away and hope they contain it," he said.

He said he turned on his sprinklers, collected tax files and irreplaceable books before fleeing his home to attend the community meeting in Bridgetown.

More community meetings will be held this morning.

Donnybrook resident Nathan King, who helped fight the fires yesterday, described the blaze as aggressive and fast moving.

In Victoria, two firefighters, a man in his 30s and a woman in her late teens, died yesterday when a tree fell on their vehicle as they fought a big bushfire near Harrietville in the Ovens alpine region.

The West Australian

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