Lax attitudes rile firefighters risking lives in Perth

Volunteers battling bush blazes are amazed many residents are not doing more to prevent the threat of fire as Australia swelters.

A firefighter directs a fire truck in Perth Hills in western Australia. Photo / AP
A firefighter directs a fire truck in Perth Hills in western Australia. Photo / AP

Firefighters who risked their lives trying to save homes in the Perth Hills firestorm are frustrated some West Australian homeowners are not doing enough to prevent bushfires spreading.

More than 50 homes were destroyed in the communities of Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena when an unstoppable bushfire was sparked in catastrophic conditions.

As the fire was brought under control, and residents were allowed back into the fire zone to assess damage, WA Fire Commissioner Wayne Gregson agreed with firefighters who told him some householders were simply not doing enough to prevent the bushfire threat.

"We have still have people having wonderful houses with the treeline right up to the house," he told ABC radio. "I have spoken to some of the volunteers who are still amazed householders are leaving things to the last minute, who do not have a plan, who not know what to do. This is not just about the weekend - [the message is] you are leaving it too late, you are not reducing the risk, and the consequences are likely to be severe."

More than 1.5 million litres of water was dropped on the firestorm by water-bombing helicopters in the hours after it began, but 52 homes were still destroyed.

Investigators believe the fire was sparked by a fallen power pole on private property. In WA maintaining power poles is the responsibility of the homeowner. Thousands of private power poles are spread across the state, and have already been blamed for sparking a bushfire in January last year which threatened houses in Chidlow.

Gregson suggested the time had come to review making landowners responsible for maintaining poles. "Is it fair and reasonable to expect an owner to be responsible for that type of infrastructure?"

Matthew Leverington, 21, a Hills resident who thinks his Stoneville house survived, says private power poles should be inspected.

"It should be inspected and [the owner told] 'no, this is not up to standards and you need to sort this out or we'll cut power out from the line or you'll be fined'. There needs to be some sort of consequence because this can't go on."

Yesterday as the eastern states sweltered, several small fires flared in Victoria.

Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said temperatures had increased and the wind speed was a little stronger than had been forecast.

"Hopefully our first attack will work so that none of those get to any significant size and so far the success rate has been very good," he told ABC TV.

Earlier, firefighters stopped the spread of a grassfire that was heading for the town of Little River, between Geelong and Melbourne.

In South Australia, the state's five-day heatwave is about to get worse with the latest forecast tipping temperatures to go even higher than initial predictions. The Bureau of Meteorology had forecast a high of 43C in Adelaide today and tomorrow before falling to 40C on Friday as a cool change begins to move across.

But acting regional director John Nairn says it is now highly likely the tops will hit 44C or 45C on both days after also reaching 44C yesterday.

There is some good news - Nairn says Adelaide is unlikely to get any hotter and regional centres, particularly in the north, which usually experience even higher temperatures, will have highs around the same mark this time.

In 1908 and 2009, Adelaide recorded six days above 40C, but Nairn said they both came at a time when Australia was gripped by drought.

In Adelaide, the mercury had hit 43.7C by lunchtime yesterday with Ceduna the hottest spot at 45C.

The ambulance service said it had put on extra crews to cope with an increase in calls, with a 10 per cent rise in demand for its services so far.

A spokesman said the third and fourth days of the heatwave were likely to be the worst.

SA Health said 20 people had gone to hospitals in Adelaide with heat-related conditions. The hottest spot in SA was Keith, with 47.2C.

Adelaide: Hot in the city

6am: 26.2C
7am: 25.6C
8am: 34.9C
9am: 38.6C
10am: 40.3C
11am: 41.3C
Noon: 42.8C
1pm: 44.2C
1.55pm: 45.1C (max)
2pm: 44.4C
3pm: 43.2C
4pm: 35.7C

(Temps yesterday, BoM)

- AAP

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