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Homes burgled as police investigation continues into fire cause

Police are yet to find any evidence of criminality in the bushfire that has ravaged at least 71 homes in the Perth Hills, but have confirmed two evacuated properties were brazenly burgled.

Commissioner Chris Dawson revealed an Aveley home that was evacuated as a precaution and another property in Red Hill had been targeted by criminals.

“In both instances, a small number of items were stolen,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“I would not characterise this as looting, but it is of course a serious concern that there have been two burglaries in those locations.”

Mr Dawson said police would continue to patrol the fire zones.

Meanwhile, reports that the blaze may have been started by fireworks then accelerated by a meth lab appear to have been debunked.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said he was aware of the reports circulating in the community.

“I’ve heard the same thing and I understand that the fire did start close to a home, but in terms of what caused it we’re not in a position to say that yet,” he told 6PR radio.

Police later indicated there was no evidence to support such allegations.

“Arson Squad are not investigating any clandestine drug labs or firework use,” a spokeswoman said.

“There are no indicators of criminality at this time and no persons being interviewed under suspicion of any crime.”

Mr Dawson said police were “quite certain” the blaze started on Werribee Road near Great Eastern Highway.

“We don’t know exactly how that started. There’s no criminality that has been identified at this point, but it is undetermined,” he said.

Mr Klemm said the fire remained largely static overnight.

“Some really much milder conditions than what we experienced the night before has meant that some potential impact on homes in the northern part of Brigadoon has been averted, and crews have worked really hard overnight to keep the fire out of there,” he told reporters.

“It’s also allowed us the opportunity to build some breaks along the southern flank and parts of the northern flank.”

Mr Klemm said the main concern for Wednesday was the northwest portion of the fire, including Shady Hills Estate.

“That northwest corner of the fire is extremely difficult to control in incredibly steep terrain. We’re unable to get earthmoving equipment in there,” he said.

“We’ve been using both large air tankers and fixed-wing water bombers to lay retardant lines in that area.”

A phone warning has gone out for Shady Hills Estate and Bullsbrook.

“People in those areas, now is the time to enact your bushfire plan. If you are not prepared, you should leave now,” Mr Klemm said.

He said the rapid damage assessment team had almost finished their work, and he expected the figure of 71 homes lost would “rise marginally”.

Premier Mark McGowan said WA was in the midst of an unprecedented situation.

“We are fighting disasters on two fronts — the devastating bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told reporters.

“This is a situation the likes of which we have never seen before. A full lockdown and raging bushfires.

“It is frightening and it will test us all. The fires have already devastated our community.

“Homes and memories (are) going up in flames. It’s terribly sad.”

Mr McGowan said the state government had made a $2 million donation to the Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund.

More than 20 GoFundMe campaigns have also been created online, with a total of more than $100,000 raised so far.

Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud has announced that people who lost their homes in the bushfire will be eligible for payments of $1000 for an adult and $400 for a child.

“This is an initiation of a payment to let those people who have been impacted by this know the federal government is there to support them,” he said.

“We will continue to make sure there are further assessments made, and if there is further support that is required, we will do whatever it takes.

“Please do not think there should be any stigma about asking for support in our hour of need.

“We are a rich country and we should support one another when times are tough.

“Western Australia was there for us on the east coast last year. It is time for us to reciprocate.”

An emergency warning remains in place for parts of The Vines, Bailup, Ellenbrook, Gidgegannup, Millendon, Walyunga National Park, Upper Swan, Aveley, Henley Brook, Avon Valley National Park, Red Hill, Belhus, Baskerville, Herne Hill, Bullsbrook, Wooroloo and Brigadoon.

“You are in danger and need to act immediately to survive,” DFES has warned people in those areas.

Meanwhile, a watch and act alert is in place for parts of Dayton, Ellenbrook, Melaleuca, Gidgegannup, West Swan, Henley Brook, Upper Swan, Brabham, Hovea, Stoneville, Wundowie, Middle Swan, Parkerville, Red Hill, Mount Helena, Jane Brook, Lower Chittering, Avon Valley National Park, Bullsbrook, Muchea, Herne Hill, Chidlow and Wooroloo.

“There is a possible threat to lives and homes as a fire is approaching in the area and conditions are changing,” DFES said.

The bushfire, which remains out of control and unpredictable, started at midday on Monday.

About 300 firefighters are continuing to battle the blaze, which has burnt through 9464 hectares.

DFES warns burning embers are likely to be blown around homes and spot fires are starting up to 100 metres ahead of the blaze.

Western Power advises about 1300 homes remain without electricity.

“There is significant damage to the electricity network in the bushfire area and it is anticipated that repair and restoration will require a significant rebuild, possibly up to a number of weeks in some areas,” authorities warn.

Some roads are also closed and drivers are urged to slow down.

Smoke is affecting people in areas from as far north as Joondalup and south to Fremantle as well as Rottnest Island.

Anyone with a respiratory condition who is affected by the smoke should contact their local doctor or call Health Direct.

The Department of Communities has set up evacuation centres at the Brown Park Recreation Complex, Swan Active Midland and Swan Active Beechboro.

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown, residents are urged to do what they need to do ensure their safety.

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