PERTH – An out-of-control wildfire burning northeast of the Australian west coast city of Perth has destroyed at least 59 homes and was threatening more Tuesday, with many residents across the region told it is too late to leave.
The 7,000-hectare (17,000-acre) blaze, which has a 80-kilometer (50-mile) perimeter, began on Monday and raged through the night near the town of Wooroloo, with the shires of Mundaring, Chittering, Northam, and the city of Swan affected.
“Firefighters have done a remarkable job in some of the most challenging conditions that we’ve experienced in the metropolitan region for some time,” Western Australia state Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said.
“Tragically, 59 properties have been lost in this fire and that number may increase as we continue to assess the extent of the damage," Klemm added.
Six firefighters sustained minor injuries, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. No other injuries were reported.
The fire doubled in size overnight and burned through 7,366 hectares (18,202 acres) of farm and woodland, officials said.
State Premier Mark McGowan said 80% of all properties at Tilden Park near Gidgegannup on Perth's northeast rural fringe have been lost.
McGowan said a large aerial tanker was flying from the Australian east coast to help fight the blaze.
“This is an extremely dangerous fire and a serious situation. Weather conditions are extremely volatile,” McGowan said.
“Please do everything you can to keep you and your family safe and look after each other,” he added.
People in a 25-kilometer (16-mile) stretch west from Wooroloo to the Walyunga National Park northeast of Perth were told Tuesday it had become too dangerous to leave their homes.
“You must shelter before the fire arrives, as the extreme heat will kill you well before the flames reach you,” a warning said.
Roads out of semi-rural suburb The Vines on Perth’s northern outskirts were bumper-to-bumper with traffic, making some people choose to stay.
Melissa Stahl, 49, heeded a text telling her to evacuate.
“I could smell the fire and went out the back and the whole yard was filled with smoke,” she said. “We grabbed bedding, photos, the two kids and the dog and got out of there.”
A warning to other threatened areas told people to leave if they are not prepared to fight the blaze. The bushfire is unpredictable and weather conditions are rapidly changing, the warning said, urging people to stay vigilant.
The cause of the blaze was unknown.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services Superintendent Peter Sutton said about 250 firefighters had been battling the erratic fire.
“It has made it very hard, near on impossible ... to suppress this fire,” Sutton said.
Wildfires are common during the current South Hemisphere summer. However the season has been mild on Australia’s southeast coast, which was devastated by massive fires last summer.