Losses from the deadly blaze in Western Australia’s South West have grown while the state’s emergency services minister continues to defend the state’s fire alert system.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) confirmed the number of homes lost in the fire had risen to 162 on Wednesday afternoon.
Residents of Yarloop, which was almost completely destroyed by the bushfire, have criticised the state’s fire alert system after DFES confirmed an emergency warning was only issued for the town approximately 30 minutes before it burnt.
But emergency services minister Joe Francis told ABC Radio it was the responsibility of the local residents to ensure their own “situational awareness”.
Mr Francis said most people left Yarloop during the day on Thursday, hours ahead of the fire front, despite the emergency warning arriving at 7.35pm that evening.
Yarloop resident Helen Alexander told AAP the DFES alert system for her town was practically non-existent.
“What alert system? We got an alert on Wednesday that was for Waroona, then we never got another thing and Yarloop was not mentioned in anything, nothing, and everyone you speak to will tell you that,” she said.
“How can you be aware when you don’t know?”
Volunteer firefighter Wayne Field, who worked to defend Yarloop, responded to local residents’ criticisms on ABC Radio.
“They are reacting, they are upset,” he said.
“At the end of the day, they were told to leave. They stood their ground, they weren’t going to leave and all power to them.
“But when one of the comments I saw on TV was that they didn’t know it was coming, well we were buzzing around that town for four hours beforehand.”
Yarloop residents were allowed back into the town briefly on Tuesday and Wednesday, describing the scene as a war zone.
“It’s absolutely incredible. It’s completely burnt out, it looks like World War III has come through,” Ms Alexander said.
Mr Francis confirmed there would be an independent enquiry into the handling of the fire, which has already killed two men and destroyed more than 71,000 hectares.
Conditions worsened on Wednesday afternoon, making it difficult for firefighters to hold containment lines, with the fire alert level increased for the towns of Cookernup and Waroona.
The changes to conditions mean a possible risk to lives and homes for people in and around both towns.
More than $2.2 million has been raised through the Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund, while farmers from around the state have donated feed for the thousands of local livestock.