THE town of York was threatened by the biggest fire in the area since the 1980s last week after fire spread through lifestyle blocks and farmland towards the historic town.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said the St Ronan’s fire was accidentally started on January 10 and had burnt through about 435 to 450 hectares.
The fire forced the closure of the Great Southern Highway between the intersection of Yarra and Inkpen Roads and Cut Hill Road, as well as Ashworth Road between Mokine Road and Great Southern Highway.
On Monday, York Shire president Darren Wallace said that 6 Mile Brook Bridge had been significantly damaged in the blaze.
He said the fire burnt for a few hours and they were fortunate that there weren’t other fires happening at the same time for aerial assets to attend because the wind was strong and could have easily spread the fire much further and destroyed the homes on the properties.
Mr Wallace said the fire reached about eight kilometres away from the York townsite before being contained.
“It started on small landholders’ blocks, where about 15 homes needed asset protection, so that made it difficult to start with,” Mr Wallace said.
He said the land was “quite undulating” in the area which gave the fire a chance to get moving and then “burned into some bigger blocks” before crossing the Great Southern Highway.
Mr Wallace said the bridge and about 700 bales of straw, as well as a lot of fences, were the only major loses, although two horses and a few sheep affected by smoke and heat had to be put down.
“It could’ve been really bad if not for the air support,” he said.
About five helicopters and four planes were used to get control of the fire, as well as 67 firefighting appliances from York and surrounding areas, including Beverley, Quairading, Northam, Baker’s Hill, Grass Valley, as well as Perth.
About 150 volunteer personnel from these areas including local farmers attended the fire.
“It was a bit hard because half our volunteers are away on holidays,” Mr Wallace said.
“It was hard to get some relief at times because we were light on numbers but it was a huge concerted effort by everyone.
“People came back everyday to mop up.”
Mr Wallace said while the fire had been contained, and there was no longer an immediate threat to the community, there were still some smouldering trees along creek beds that were being monitored.
DFES said fire and emergency services personnel would be working on site and commuters were to avoid the area and especially heavy vehicles to seek alternative routes until further notice.
York sheep producer Peter Boyle played a major role in the fire, filling in for the holidaying chief fire control officer.
He said it was the “nastiest fire” he had been to and if it wasn’t for the air support it could have been a whole lot of “strife”.
Mr Boyle has served in the Bush Fire Brigade for 53 years.
“It was the nastiest fire I’ve been to, but also the luckiest,” Mr Boyle said.
“It was fortunate it was a cool night.”
He said the gullies and undulating ground, as well as the 35 knot winds made the fire move “so fast” that it was “driving it towards the town”.
“There was so much grass, after a good season, it was a hot and ferocious fire,” he said.
Mr Boyle said the fire split into a V and one side burnt into lupin stubble which doesn’t burn as much and brought the fire to a stop.
He said there were lots of dams, which were “nearly all full”, that the helicopters used to douse the flames.
“The aircraft were fantastic,” he said.
Mr Boyle said after the fire was out on Sunday a helicopter circled above identifying hotspots for the ground crew to put out.
“They identified 120 hotspots with an infrared camera,” he said.
The number amazed him because while they were walking through inspecting the trees they couldn’t see all of the areas affected due to the landscape, and they thought they had most of it.
Mr Boyle said everyone involved deserved to be congratulated for their efforts and for pulling together.
“Everyone pulled their weight,” he said.
“There was great co-operation which makes it easy to take control.”
Earlier in the month Kojonup sheep and grain producers Rob Warburton posted on Twitter that he had “one of the most devastating events happen” to his farm after a fire ripped through his property.
Mr Warburton said “400ha of crop and stubble burnt along with two headers, two tractors, a bag loader and the chaser bin”.
He said no stock had been lost.
“It was a perfect storm,” Mr Warburton said.
He said apart from some burns to his hand, everyone survived.
“As devastating as the fire was we have had the most amazing support from the whole community, both during and after the fire,” he said.
“We are so grateful you were there for us.”
DFES has identified a number of fires across the State, some of which are planned burns by the Department of Wildlife and Attractions.