By Michael Sinclair-Jones
A CIGARETTE butt tossed from a passing vehicle is thought to have sparked a huge bushfire that threatened last month to destroy dozens of homes near an area devastated by Toodyay’s 2009 bushfire.
Local residents were warned to flee or get ready to fight an approaching inferno after the fire – “most likely” started by cigarette butt on Toodyay Road near Strahan Road (above) – started racing across dry farm paddocks and dense bushland towards Toodyay’s Wandoo Circle rural residential subdivision.
State fire authorities issued an emergency warning to all local residents at 5.17 pm on January 8.
“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive – there is a threat to lives and homes in the Wandoo Circle subdivision,” the warning said.
“If the way is clear, leave now for a safer place – do not wait and see, leaving at the last minute is deadly.”Read more
Residents were evacuated to Shire of Toodyay emergency centres at the town’s Memorial Hall and at the Toodyay Showground (for those with pets) and provided with tea, coffee, snacks and support services.
Seven water bomber helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft flew immediately from Perth and spent the next three hours before nightfall limiting the bulk of the fire as emergency ground crews (left) worked through the night to cut and hold containment lines.
They were able to arrest the fire in dense, inaccessible bush about 240m from dozens of nearby homes which were evacuated.
It was the second emergency warning in a month for nearby Majestic Heights residents after their homes were threatened by another big bush fire which started on December 11 when a petrol-driven brush cutter lit farmland near the Toodyay golf course during a shire hot works and harvest ban.
The earlier fire burnt out 16ha and forced the closure of Toodyay Road for several hours as volunteer firefighters worked through the night to save dozens of hilltop homes, the golf course, racetrack and a caravan park and holiday chalets.
Majestic Heights bore the brunt of Toodyay’s catastrophic Decem
ber 2009 fire when more than 100 homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
Toodyay Road was again closed last month – this time for 20 hours from 5pm on January 8 – as metro and rural firefighting units rushed to the new fire after a 38C day.
‘We dodged a bullet – it was scary, scary scary’
They spent the next 31 hours battling to contain and control the blaze before it was safe for crews to leave.
Local farmers with mobile water tanks helped fire crews using heavy earthmoving machinery to clear containment lines as a fleet of water bombers worked overhead.
The fire burnt out 90ha and reached the edge of a farmhouse, which fire crews were able to defend and save.
No homes were lost and mopping up operations lasted another two weeks.
“It was scary, scary, scary – the worst fire I have ever faced,” local firefighter John Hansen said.
“If not for the Helitacs (helicopter water bombers, left and below) and ground crews able to clear a line in front of the fire, it would have been a total nightmare, a complete disaster.
“We dodged a bullet that day.”
Police said last month’s fire “most likely” started by a cigarette butt thrown from a passing car on Toodyay Road.
The fire was first reported by a motorist driving towards Toodyay.
Local volunteer bushfire brigades had to rush to another fire near a rural residential subdivision on last month’s Australia Day Monday public holiday when a Wicklow Road property owner allegedly used an angle grinder during a shire hot works and harvest ban.
The fire burnt half a hectare and is being investigated by Toodyay police for potential prosecution.
Acting Sgt Kevan French said all Toodyay residents should register to receive shire works and harvest ban notices on their phones by texting ‘BANS’ to 0408 017 439.