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A remote roadhouse on the Nullarbor has run out of toilet paper and is running low on beer and even more essential food items as bushfires cause chaos for truck drivers and holidaymakers travelling between Western Australia and South Australia.
- Eyre Highway and Coolgardie-Esperance Highway will be closed for the foreseeable future with “catastrophic” fire conditions forecast for Thursday
- An additional four strike teams from around WA have arrived to fight the bushfires which brings the number to about 120
- Authorities are asking people to avoid the area, seek alternative routes, and ensure they have enough food and water supplies
The historic mining town of Norseman has been cut off for extended periods over the past fortnight, with about 270,000 hectares destroyed by seven separate fire fronts in the WA Goldfields region.
The Caiguna Roadhouse, 400 kilometres east of Norseman along the Eyre Highway, has become the temporary home for about 250 truck drivers and holidaymakers stranded by the out-of-control bushfires.
Caiguna Roadhouse manager Maureen O’Halloran said the latest closure has been in effect since Monday afternoon, saying about 40 caravans and 20 trucks are parked outside.
“The fires are 200 kilometres away so we’re not in danger of the fire at all,” she said.
“People want to get as close as possible to where they’re going, so they’re still coming this way instead of stopping at the border.
“A few have turned around and gone back to South Australia or tried to find accommodation back down the highway, but it’s basically booked out all the way to the border.”
A helicopter is being organised to fly in essential food supplies like milk, bread, and bottled water to Caiguna from Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Caiguna Roadhouse video
Ms O’Halloran said the truck drivers are used to life on the road and have been patient during the delays, but some holidaymakers have lost their cool in the scorching summer heat.
“There’s been a few tempers here and there but we’re coping,” she said.
“We’re trying our best to service people. The hardest thing to service is people’s aggro.
“Most of the people here understand that we’re running out of everything, including beer and alcohol.
“At the moment I’ve got 25 to 30 people in my bar and I’ve probably got 20 cartons of beer left.
“I’ve plenty of light beer which nobody is drinking, but if it (the road closure) goes into another day they might be drinking it.”
Water bombers to aid fire fight
Two water bombers are being flown in to fight the bushfires which have been burning since December 16 and closed the interstate route for several days in the lead-up to Christmas
Firefighters inside the Norseman bushfire
DFES Superintendent Anthony Sadler said fires burning near Balladonia are close to the Eyre Highway and it would not be safe for motorists.
The closures will be in place for at least the next 48 hours.
“There is smoke over the road and crews are performing backburning operations, so it is very unsafe to let people through,” he said.
“I understand there will be many people trying to get along those transport routes and my advice is for those travellers to be patient, we are doing what we can and hopefully we can get those roads open ASAP.
“What we don’t want is for people to continue to travel west because a lot of these roadhouses are not set up for large numbers of people and it puts a lot of pressure on them to maintain food and water, and supplies can run out.”
Acting Police Superintendent Craig Davis said motorists have attempted to bypass the road closures by driving on unsealed bush tracks which he said is reckless and dangerous.
He said there have been a couple of incidents over the past week where police have had to rescue motorists who became bogged in a remote area near the Trans Australian Railway.
“Our advice is please, do not try to take alternative routes,” he said.
“It is chewing up our resources when they get bogged or stranded and then we have to take action to get them free.”
Mr Davis said the road closures had occurred at the worst possible time.
“Whenever you close off a major highway it’s always a concern,” he said.
“That’s the gateway from the eastern states to WA, so it’s critical to get it open as soon as possible. But DFES are making informed decisions on when they open or close it.
“No time is a good time [to close the highway], but this time of year is probably worst.”
Perth man Mark Sheehan and his wife are driving back from Victoria where he spent Christmas with his grandchildren.
They got as far as Eucla, 12km from the South Australian border, when he heard about the road closures.
Mr Sheehan said all the hotel rooms have been booked out in Eucla and many people will either be pitching a tent or sleeping in their cars.
“We got one of the last rooms in Eucla,” Mr Sheehan told the ABC.
“We had no idea the road was cut off, and just from chatting to other people who are stuck here I can tell nobody knew.
“I am thinking of driving back to Adelaide and putting my car on a train and flying home.”
Ben Stamatovich and his co-driver, wife Jacinta Brennan, make the 64-hour, 5,700-kilometre round trip from Adelaide to Perth every week.
Mr Stamatovich said he counted 17 trucks parked at Cocklebiddy and estimated as many as 300 trucks could be banked up at roadhouses across the Nullarbor over the next 48 hours.
“There’s not that much you can do about it. S**t happens, I suppose,” he said.
“It’s just unfortunate because a lot of the truck drivers have missed Christmas and New Year with their families because of the fires.
“It’s the same for the firefighters as well.”