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Margaret River region on high alert for bushfire

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Shire of Augusta-Margaret River chief bushfire control officer David Holland has a strong warning for residents and visitors alike.
Camera IconShire of Augusta-Margaret River chief bushfire control officer David Holland has a strong warning for residents and visitors alike. Credit: Warren Hately/Augusta-Margaret River Times

Fire chiefs have used the strongest possible terms to put the region on notice about potentially disastrous conditions under way today and this weekend.

Speaking to the Times as temperatures ramped up this week, Shire of Augusta-Margaret River chief fire control officer David Holland said hot, windy and dry conditions meant residents had to be “extremely vigilant”.

The same conditions that have proven a boon for this year’s grapes have escalated bushfire risks across the shire, and threats of an inland thunderstorm this weekend added to the concerns.

Mr Holland said all residents and visitors, including those living in town sites, had to take extra care.

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“With the elevated temperatures and extremely low relative humidity levels, it means that any fires that do start may be difficult to control quickly, especially if those ignitions occur during the peak of the day,” he said.

“Mostly, we are asking the community to just do the right thing. Remember camp fires are banned, and if you see smoke or fire dial 000.”

The Bureau of Meteorology expected the heatwave to turn severe yesterday, Thursday, February 8, with temperatures set to soar this weekend.

“It’s caused by a stagnant trough developing down the west coast, bringing hot temperatures from the north,” said duty forecaster Jessica Lingard.

“We see very little relief in the afternoons as this trough prevents the sea breeze from developing.”

Mr Holland said total fire bans were likely as well as a ban on harvest vehicle movements.

He urged residents to have bushfire plans ready and to keep up to date on the shire and Department of Fire and Emergency Services websites and social media.

“I can’t say this strongly enough: you need to have a plan to avoid making last-minute decisions that could prove deadly,” he said.

The call was echoed by Wallcliffe Fire Services Brigade which noted very low rainfall since September meant the region was “frighteningly dry”.

“We are at the highest level (of soil dryness) we have seen in the last five years,” a spokesperson said.

“We’re at the peak of bushfire season.

“It’s also the time of year people can become a bit complacent,” the brigade said.

“These are the critical days to be getting your bushfire preparedness in top order, even if you live in suburbs.”

Margaret River Coastal Residents Association president Adrian Wilson urged those flocking to beaches to take serious precautions.

“One spark in the wrong conditions would be a disaster,” he said.

“With large summer crowds and overflowing carparks et cetera, a rapidly moving fire would present serious problems for firefighters in terms of managing all the people, then trying to protect assets.”

Mr Wilson said residents had worked with rangers to highlight causes for concern, including reports of illegal camping and track access along the coast.

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