Shattered residents returned to their fire-ravaged communities near Margaret River yesterday to assess damage to their homes that is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
With the help of cooler weather, on Saturday night, firefighters finally brought under control the devastating blaze that swept the region last week. It razed 41 homes, including National Australia Bank and Woodside Petroleum chairman Michael Chaney's historic Wallcliffe House, and damaged more than a dozen other properties. No lives were lost.
The fire, in Western Australia's south, was sparked by an official backburn that jumped containment lines on Wednesday. A fire roadblock was lifted on Saturday night, allowing residents into the small coastal towns of Prevelly and Gnarabup to see how much damage homes had sustained, The Australian Financial Review reports.
But as another community meeting was held at the Margaret River recreation centre yesterday morning to update residents, anger was directed at the role of the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), which managed the backburn.
Despite DEC's denials, locals claimed new fires were lit on Monday – a day before forecast strong winds and searing temperatures were due.
Keiran McNamara, director-general of DEC, said on the weekend that prescribed burning was inherently dangerous but it would continue to be an essential part of protecting the community from bushfires. ''In the absence of prescribed burning, unfortunately we will see worse tragedies than what we've experienced this week," he said.