Home / World News / Denmark, Bridgetown, Corrigin and Wickepin: Residents counting cost of devastating days of fires

Denmark, Bridgetown, Corrigin and Wickepin: Residents counting cost of devastating days of fires

WA firefighters are coming up for air for the first time in days after a hellish weekend in which more than 1000 career and volunteer heroes battled four out-of-control infernos simultaneously for the first time.

The raging blazes at Denmark, Bridgetown, Corrigin and Wickepin burnt through more than 65,000ha of WA’s regional heartland and were on Sunday all at an emergency level at the same time — forcing evacuations.

WA Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said he believed it was the first time the State had battled four level-three emergencies at once all the while fighting several other smaller fires and incidents.

Wickepin local Hilton Kirby had a sleepless night at the evacuation centre set up in Pingelly, worried about what he would come back to when residents of the Wheatbelt town were allowed to return.
Camera IconWickepin local Hilton Kirby had a sleepless night at the evacuation centre set up in Pingelly, worried about what he would come back to when residents of the Wheatbelt town were allowed to return. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

He said the resources required to fight the unprecedented situation — against a backdrop of challenges posed by COVID-19 — was “extremely challenging”.

“There have been incredible efforts by volunteer and career personnel alike, not only with dealing with the four level-three bushfires occurring throughout the State from Friday to last Sunday, but with the many other bushfires and incidents that occurred around the State at the same time,” Mr Klemm said.

“I don’t recall a time when we have had four level-three bushfires occurring at the same time, as well as dealing with a state of emergency around a pandemic. So it is particularly challenging from a resourcing point of view.

“But I am equally as proud of the pre-planning that went in last week to make sure the State was prepared for the difficult conditions.”

All of the four intense bushfires had been downgraded by Monday afternoon, with the Wheatbelt blazes at Wickepin and Corrigin sitting at the second tier watch and act stage, and the Denmark and Bridgetown blazes at the lowest level of bushfire advice.

Wickepin local Ian Watkins teaches neary siblings Izaiah, 7, Malia, 3, and Ava, 6, Uno at the Pingelly evacuation centre.
Camera IconWickepin local Ian Watkins teaches neary siblings Izaiah, 7, Malia, 3, and Ava, 6, Uno at the Pingelly evacuation centre. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

Residents are starting to return to their homes at Hester — just north of Bridgetown, Corrigin, Wickepin and Denmark. However, a warning remains for Hester after toxic chemicals were released from the Timber Treaters business.

More than 1000 emergency services crew members were deployed to help communities affected at the weekend and 36 firefighters arrived from NSW to lend a hand on Sunday night. There were also 17 aircraft supporting ground crew, including a large air tanker.

The four blazes razed an area 10 times the size of metropolitan Perth, destroying farmland, sheds and property, including four homes in Denmark and one in Bridgetown. At least two homes are believed to have also been destroyed in Corrigin.

A burnt property.
Camera IconA burnt property. Credit: Laurie Benson/ Albany Advertiser

Bridgetown golf course caretakers Penny and Bob Marshall said the devastating bushfire had ripped through their properties — destroying the golf club. The couple fought for as long as they could to keep the fire at bay by using the water tanks available before the intense heat melted the plastic tanks, rendering them useless.

Mr Klemm said rapid damage assessment was under way to determine the damage across the Wheatbelt, with initial indications sheds and other infrastructure had also been destroyed in Cuballing.

He said the Denmark fire was not being treated as suspicious, but the arson squad had visited Bridgetown, while work had begun to determine how the Wheatbelt blazes started.

Damage done by the bushfire in Corrigin where many houses and sheds were lost.
Camera IconDamage done by the bushfire in Corrigin where many houses and sheds were lost. Credit: Ashley Jacobs/Ashley Jacobs

The number of sheep killed or badly burnt across the Wheatbelt is still being assessed but is expected to be in the thousands, with farmers and vets undertaking the heartbreaking task of euthanising injured livestock on Monday.

WAFarmers president John Hassell said stock and infrastructure losses were the most “devastating impact” of the blazes, with fire fronts that spread throughout the “good sheep area” so quickly there was almost no opportunity for farmers to move animals.

“There has been no human life lost, but losing livestock and property is devastating,” he said.

“Some farmers did manage to move sheep, but it was very tough going when a fire is that fast moving and serious. “

Bushfire near Bridgetown, WA. Bridgetown Golf Course. Caretakers Penny and Bob Marshall have lost everything when their home went up in flames. Several sheds, machinery and vehicles.
Camera IconBushfire near Bridgetown, WA. Bridgetown Golf Course. Caretakers Penny and Bob Marshall have lost everything when their home went up in flames. Several sheds, machinery and vehicles. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

More than 60,000ha of regional WA was razed by fire, including 2250ha at Bridgetown, 2150ha at Denmark and about 55,000ha across the Central Wheatbelt, including 18,000ha near Narrogin.

Shire of Pingelly president William Mulroney said about 40 people — eight from Corrigin and the remainder from Wickepin — had spent the night at an evacuation centre at Pingelly on Monday.

Forced to flee as the flames bore down on the outskirts of Wickepin and Corrigin, they grabbed their most precious belongings before spending their nights resting in their cars, on blow-up mattresses or on camp stretchers with sleeping bags and pillows on the town’s indoor basketball court.

Wickepin’s Hilton Kirby said all he could think about was whether he was going to see his house again. “You pray like hell that you’ve still got a house when you come home, because all we’ve got is what we’re wearing,” he said.

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