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Ban stopped residents clearing scrub
Nearly lost: The fire came close to homes in Aubin Grove.

UPDATE: The Arson Squad is investigating whether a fire that threatened houses and lives south of Perth was caused by someone burning rubbish illegally.

The fire started between Taylor Road and Nicholson Road on Monday and is still burning.

Today the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said it deemed the blaze suspicious.

The fire, which tore through nearly 500ha in Aubin Grove, Atwell and Banjup on Monday, damaged six homes - including two that have been made uninhabitable - and threatened hundreds more.

Arson Squad Officer in Charge Det-Sen. Sgt Craig White said today that investigations indicated that the fire might have been caused by someone burning rubbish on a track running in a north/south direction between Nicholson and Taylor roads.

"The area is being used as an unauthorised dumping ground, containing large amounts of rubbish including burnt tyres, oil and a large water tank," he said.

"The lighting of fires where proper precaution or authorisation has not been obtained is a criminal offence and can result in devastating consequences for the community."

Anyone who noticed suspicious behaviour in the area is asked to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

The fire alert for the area has been downgraded to an advice from a watch and act.

Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said yesterday that people who deliberately lit bushfires were committing "urban terrorism".

Earlier it was revealed that City of Cockburn told residents in semi-rural areas within the burn zone of this week's damaging blaze that they were forbidden from clearing any vegetation in case it affected the Jandakot groundwater mound.

Bushfire Front chairman Roger Underwood yesterday said the edict was ludicrous, claiming the likelihood of salinity from scrub clearing on the Swan Coastal Plain was remote and should not be prioritised over reducing fuel loads around homes.

It came as the council confirmed it did not carry out controlled burns on its reserves because they "sustain natural habitats with fragile ecosystems".

Firefighters could not control flames fed by fuel loads thought to be 20 years old in reserves including scrub opposite Tapper Road, Atwell, on Monday.

Big areas east of the Kwinana Freeway, including Banjup and Atwell, were rezoned in 2000 from special rural and rural to a category called the resource zone, in recognition of the groundwater beneath the mainly 20ha lots.

A resource zone information sheet, available on the city's website, says "no removal of vegetation is permitted" except dead, diseased or dangerous material or for a 3m firebreak around perimeters.

Mr Underwood said the council information conflicted with Department of Fire and Emergency Services regulations requiring a 20m building protection zone around homes.

He said residents were "caught between two conflicting policies" and it was no wonder many were confused about their obligations.

Asked about the Cockburn information, Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson said: "My advice is, clear whatever vegetation that you need to put in a bushfire protection zone around your dwelling and no one would ever get prosecuted for that."

He said DFES did not have the power to compel councils to carry out controlled burns on their reserves.

City strategic planning manager Andrew Trosic said resource zone land could be cleared to comply with the Bush Fires Act. This was mentioned in an attachment to the information sheet.

Landowners should contact the city about their individual circumstances, he said.

Maureen Frankham, whose 80-year-old adoptive parents chose to stay at their Triandra Court property in Banjup rather than flee the fire, said they would have reduced fuel loads if they thought they were allowed to.