Almost 340 people have been successfully evacuated from roadhouses on a remote Nullarbor highway after becoming stranded by bushfires that have closed down the border between Western Australia and South Australia.
- The fires left more than 300 people stranded at Eyre Highway roadhouses
- A brief change in conditions allowed them to be evacuated to Esperance
- Authorities say the danger isn’t over and conditions may worsen this week
Fires burning around the small Goldfields town of Norseman have closed the Eyre Highway — the only sealed route between WA and SA — for the past eight days.
Nine separate fire fronts have destroyed more than 350,000 hectares and the area covered by the bushfire warning is bigger than the total land mass of the United Kingdom.
As fires continue to burn across the region, authorities today made use of a brief window of opportunity to move people from Caiguna along the highway to Norseman at the western end of the Nullarbor Plain, and then on to Esperance.
A queue of cars and trucks is escorted on the Eyre Highway after being trapped by bushfire. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)
‘Everyone bonded together’
Bunbury resident Margaret Fleming said she ran out of medication and her partner Michael Rowe also suffered health problems while stuck at Caiguna for six days.
The couple were returning from Christmas in South Australia.
Margaret Fleming and Michael Rowe were part of the 338-member convoy escorted through. (ABC News: Jarrod Lucas)
“It’s been very, very hot and my partner hasn’t been very well,” she said.
“The paramedics have been absolutely fabulous … they gave him an ECG (electrocardiogram) and checked his blood pressure every day.
The Eyre Highway linking WA and South Australia has been closed since last week. (Twitter: Norseman Police)
“The people at the roadhouse were just fantastic.
“It was the middle of nowhere, but everyone just bonded together and helped one another.
“You didn’t know them but sometimes you’d get upset and start crying … someone would come up and give you a cuddle and tell you it was going to be all right.”
Authorities have warned the danger posed by the bushfires is not over. (DFES: Evan Collis)
Road to remain closed as conditions worsen
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Commissioner Darren Klemm said the 1,660-kilometre-long Eyre Highway would remain closed for the foreseeable future with lightning forecast this week.
“It is difficult to say [when it will be reopened] but I can assure you that the number one priority of DFES, the incident controller and the crews on the ground is to get the Eyre Highway open as soon as we possibly can,” he said.
“People need to understand it’s a unique location out here. Here we have the tyranny of distance and it has been a focus from day one to get that road back open.”
BOM WA tweet: Satellite gif showing smoke from bushfires along Eyre Highway
DFES Superintendent Mark Bowen said firefighters had made good progress on all the fire fronts over the past couple of days, but conditions were set to get worse.
“We currently have nine fires that we are managing out of Kalgoorlie and they range from out at Balladonia through to Norseman and up to Coolgardie,” he said.
During the past week, authorities have flown in emergency supplies and set up first-aid posts in Caiguna.
Aerial checks planned to spot campers
Authorities closed the WA-SA border yesterday and worked to advise travellers from Border Village out to Caiguna about the evacuation plan.
Hundreds of people were left stranded at Caiguna Roadhouse due to the bushfires and road closures. (Supplied: Ben Stamatovich/The Drone Way)
Firefighters, police and Main Roads crews would be utilised during the operation.
“Once we’ve got all of the travellers off that we’re aware of, we’ll do a scan along the highway,” Superintendent Bowen said.
“We’re also using aircraft, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft along the highway just trying to identify anyone that may be camping in other areas.”
Bushfires burning near Norseman have blanketed the remote town in smoke for weeks. (Supplied: Lynn Webb)