Waroona-Yarloop fires - one year on: the tragedy and triumph

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Tragedy and triumph, one year on

Those whose lives were touched or destroyed by the Waroona-Yarloop fires will never know what time it started on the night of January 5, 2016.

But three days later two men were dead, 181 homes were destroyed and the historic town of Yarloop was in ashes.

A year on, many are still asking when it will be over.

Investigators can’t pinpoint the moment two fires were started by lightning some time after dark just west of Murray Road in Lane Poole Reserve.

All up the fire that began that night burnt through almost 70,000 hectares, an area almost as big as New York City, and left a damage bill of about $155 million.

Even the most experienced and hardened fire fighters said they had never seen anything like it.

“At one stage every single boundary was a head of fire when it went through Yarloop,” said one.

How the Waroona-Yarloop bushfires overtook everything.

How the Waroona-Yarloop bushfires overtook everything.

“The whole thing just exploded in a massive down-draught.”

Another described the fire moving at 100 kilometres an hour and running in all directions.

From Dwellingup in the east, the fire burnt through to Preston Beach in the west, where residents and holiday-makers were trapped after roads were closed.

Mandurah’s Volunteer Marine Rescue Service shuttled people to safety from the beach.

Even as the flames were being extinguished, another battle was underway; hundreds of people flooded into emergency evacuation centres in Pinjarra and Bunbury and volunteers rushed to their assistance.

The community pulled together, and was a credit to the state. There were donations and pledges of help from Mandurah, Perth and across the nation.

The recovery effort will go on for years, and many victims fear the wounds may never heal.

For some, every day seems as though the struggle will never end. Just as one hurdle is crossed, another is thrown in the path of residents, such as the fear the primary school in Yarloop would close.

But these are people who never give up.

As the Mandurah Mail looks back, we can say we are proud of our community and we are proud to share these stories.

Aftermath: Although the wreckage will soon be gone, it will take a lifetime to heal the scars. Photo: Richard Polden.

Aftermath: Although the wreckage will soon be gone, it will take a lifetime to heal the scars. Photo: Richard Polden.

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