Esperance bushfires see state and army step in

A complex fire system with a collective area of almost 400,000 hectares has been burning within the Shire of Esperance this week, with fears it could last weeks if not months.

Several fires were started by lightning in a number of areas including Cape Le Grand, Boyatup, the Coolgardie-Esperance Highway, Salmon Gums, and a very large fire north of Cascade Road that has now spread across Lake King road. 

The Cape Le Grand fire saw campers evacuated and the National Park close from Friday, February 22, until Sunday, February 24.

As the fire was contained, a second fire began in Boyatup - with those in the area told to leave immediately or prepare to actively defend.

Both Condingup Primary School and Cape Arid National Park's Thomas River Campsite were closed on Monday, February 25, with the Department of Fire and Emergency Services warning that the hot weather expected in the coming days could see fire conditions worsen.

With local resources at their limits, Shire of Esperance chief executive officer Matthew Scott said the shire began handing the control over to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

"We have been dealing with a complex fire system that has burnt a large section east of Parmango and put our local resources to their limits," he said.

"In that time, it has progressed from level 1 to level 3 fire, with a collective area of about 400,000 hectares of Unallocated Crown Land in this shire affected by fire.

"Considerable resources being brought into town, including four fixed wing water bombers in town, two light aircraft, and four helicopters.

"The major concern at the moment the weather and there is the potential for these fires to move possibly in a south westerly direction. 

"All resources from the state, DFES, Parks and Wildlife are being poured into managing these fires - this has been a massive effort.

"There is no immediate threat but we are planning for trigger points should we need to move people out of affected areas.

“It’s going to be a long fight, we have a large area affected by fire.

“I suspect we will be running this complex fire system for a number of weeks, even months. 

"All I can hope, or pray, is that we get some rain.”

Photo: Northcliffe Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services.

Photo: Northcliffe Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services.

Twenty members of the Australian Army's 13th Brigade arrived in Esperance from Karrakatta on Wednesday afternoon, February 27, to establish a remote tent city at the Esperance Indoor Sports Stadium and accommodate the 200 visiting firefighters battling fires across the region.

Major Christopher Lequaietermaine said this was the first time in four years that the brigade had been called to establish sleeping accommodation for the firefighters.

"This isn’t one of our normal roles but it is one we undertake as part of our duties in emergency situations like this," he said.

"We haven’t done this in four years, the Northcliffe fires were the last time we provided this kind of support but it is there as one of the options the government has to call on when the area doesn’t have the resources to do that. 

"Normally you would use the civilian infrastructure but that’s not available at this time.

“We enjoy coming down here and assisting the community as best we can. 

"It’s a good opportunity for the 13th brigade to come down here and help other Western Australians.”

The brigade are tasked to be in the region until Sunday, March 3, but will stay longer if required.

With a number of local events being held this long weekend, March 2, Mr Scott said the shire was trying to prepare the town for an influx of people.

Deputy Shire president Natalie Bowman said the shire had been inundated with community support and extended thanks to those travelling from across the state to assist.

“We're hugely grateful for the offers of help coming in from everywhere," she said.

"A massive thanks to those coming from all over the state.”