Perth Hills – One Week Later
Last week’s catastrophic blaze in the Perth hills of Western Australia ended after taking the property toll to 56 homes. The fire – which had flames of up to 20m high and was so hot it melted glass windows – was sparked by a falling power pole on a private property, on a Sunday with gusty winds and temperatures over 40°C.
This saw the beginning of a week where the Rapid Relief Team spent six days and five nights providing for affected residents and emergency crews.
Shortly after the fire began, the RRT were quick to offer assistance to the Salvation Army. Once this was accepted, the team arrived at the Brown Park evacuation centre in Swan View at around 4:30pm.
This facility had a canteen, and with the RRT’s trailer, equipment and tents outside, many meals and drinks were served to affected members of the community as they came pouring in. The RRT at this location not only provided for residents who spent the night there, but also hundreds of people who attended the community meetings over the following days.
Most of these people were evacuees who spent days away from their homes, and came to community meetings hoping to find out whether or not their houses were safe. RRT members witnessed the distress of many of the community who were advised their homes were destroyed, and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to them.
Firefighters and other emergency crew were also initially served from the Brown Park evacuation centre, often in the early hours of the morning. On Sunday night while the fire was still being fought, RRT members took multiple loads of food and drinks out to weary firefighters and police officers. Energy drinks were particularly well received by emergency crew who had not only worked all day, but through the night as well. One police officer was so tired he took four cans of energy drink around 4:00am!
This activity continued throughout the next day, with RRT members taking burgers, rolls, snacks and drinks out to those who were working to bring the fire under control.
By Monday night it was apparent that residents in the ‘hot zone’ needed assistance. This area was securely blocked off, as it wasn’t safe to enter. Unfortunately this meant that residents that had stayed to defend their homes weren’t able to freely leave the area, as they wouldn’t be permitted to return.
On Tuesday the RRT set up a supply store at the volunteer firefighter base in Stoneville, offering essential provisions to affected residents who were without power, working fridges, or even clean water. Available here were donated goods such as vegetables, bread, milk, pet food, clean water, newspapers, and petrol.
A story that stands out is when an elderly chemotherapy patient approached the RRT at this location asking when power would be available. He had just had treatment a few days earlier and was about to fall ill due to its effects. The RRT quickly supplied power to his house from one of the neighbours, who happened to be one of Rapid Relief Team.
Power generators were kindly lent to the RRT, and were distributed to residents without power. Meals were also served at this location to residents and volunteer firefighters, and it was attended both day and night right up until Friday evening.
RRT also set up at a third location on Tuesday, when they began helping at the Incident Control centre at an oval in Parkerville. This is where the Salvation Army were catering for emergency personnel, and the RRT assisted them in serving meals during the day as well as manning their van during the night, up until Thursday night.
Western Power, who had around 200 crew replacing 150 power poles damaged by the fire, asked the RRT to provide them with meals on Wednesday and Thursday. Each day the RRT obliged by supplying them with 200 rounds of double sandwiches, fruit salad and cakes.
The generous donations that came flooding in during this time of tragedy were overwhelming. Many members of the public as well as local businesses, rallied to supply provisions which the RRT used to assist those affected by the tragedy. The donors are too many to mention, but we would like to sincerely thank each one – their generosity made our efforts possible!
We would also like to thank other volunteers and emergency personnel who assisted at this tragedy, and we especially appreciate the efforts of the firefighters – whose quick response and hard work prevented many more houses from being lost.