‘How did it get out here?’: Waroona demands answers

BRAD Lewis, a Waroona volunteer firefighter and farmer who lost almost everything in the Waroona/Yarloop bushfires has a question he keeps asking himself and everyone who will listen.

Why weren’t the small, controllable fires that started in Lane Poole near Dwellingup stopped there and then, before they killed two men, devastated several communities and destroyed the historical town Yarloop?

"How did it get out here?" he said on Thursday, discussing the loss of his Waroona farm with Canning MP Andrew Hastie.

"It shouldn't have, really, it should not have got here.

"It's a fire that started near Dwellingup and then there’s the 18 Ks between here and Waroona, a lot of flat ground, so why wasn't it stopped where it started?"

Mr Lewis’s farm was all but destroyed in the blaze; he and his father Greg, who is the captain of the Waroona West Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, managed to save the houses where they live and count themselves lucky.

Other neighbours they were fighting to protect lost their homes and some as many as 8000 head of cattle.

Mr Lewis has spent the days since the fire assessing the damage to his community, repairing fences where he can and coming to terms with the scale of the disaster.

And Mr Lewis, like many in the area who are asking, wants his question answered.

"The ground crews and the aerial crews were fantastic, but looking at it someone needs to put their hand up and say, 'Well this was my stuff up, how do we fix it?' Not sweep it under the carpet," he said.

"Two years running Waroona's been hit now and no one's come up with an answer and now it's wiped out Yarloop."

His father, Greg Lewis, said he couldn’t shake the feeling that the fire should never have reached Waroona.

"I've been going for 25 years as a volunteer firefighter," he said.

"They had people in IC [incident control] that did not know the areas, they did not know the roads.

"Then we had no hope as soon as it hit the river, because it's never been burnt in 50 years."

Both men said they were not looking for someone to blame, just answers.

"There's no one to point the finger at, but they definitely have to look at the big picture, how it got from where it started across to Waroona then out to here," Brad Lewis said.

"All of us local knowledge people were trying to put in input and we were told, 'Just fight the fire', like they didn't care.

"Someone needs to stand back and say, ‘Well, I'll take responsibility for this’, but I guarantee you no one will."

A spokesperson for the Department of Parks and Wildlife, which managed the fires when they first broke out, said two separate fires had started at Lane Poole, one of which could not be controlled.

"Both bushfires were attacked, with one bushfire suppressed at 6ha in size and the other bushfire overwhelming firefighting efforts on the steep upper (inaccessible) slopes of the Murray River valley," she said.

Email Nathan Hondros: nathan.hondros@fairfaxmedia.com.au


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