Fires too close for comfort

Rueben Hale, Alex Massey, Gabrielle Knowles, Liam Croy and Kate EmeryThe West Australian

Small farm producers and the Muchea saleyards were on tenterhooks this week as hundreds of firefighters battled bushfires in Perth's northern suburbs.

Helitacs and water bombers dotted the sky as fire crews fought against the fast-moving blaze, with flames reaching higher than rooftops.

The main fire, which started in Bullsbrook and has burned more than 7000ha of semi-rural land, jumped containment lines several times, eventually spreading into the Gnangara pine plantation and threatening properties in the City of Swan, City of Wanneroo and the Shire of Chittering, including the Bullsbrook and Muchea town sites.

As _Countryman _went to press, the fires were under control but still burning and regarded as a possible threat if weather conditions changed.

Asher Road resident and market garden owner Owen Nguyen was at market when he received a call about the fire.

It was not until he started driving home and saw the plume of smoke in the distance he realised the gravity of the situation.

"The trucks aren't insured, the machinery's not insured," he said.

"We have been here for 10 or 15 years. This is our main income."

Mr Nguyen said he had spoken to workers at the farm, who said a neighbour's house had been destroyed.

"The last time I heard they said the house next door was burned already," he said. "The guy just lives there with a few horses. I hope he get out. He's an old guy."

The workers drove Mr Nguyen's trucks into an open field before leaving the area.

"I rang (the workers), but it was kind of fuzzy because they were running," he said. "They were cutting vegies when they saw the fire and they stopped straight away."

Meanwhile, with his front doormat burnt to a crisp and patio gutters singed black, Rob Parkinson struggled to explain how his Bullsbrook home of 30 years was still standing.

Sifting through the scorched earth that once housed his spelling stables, Mr Parkinson recounted the desperate dash to safety he and his 95-year-old mother Gladys made as flames circled their Asher Road property on Saturday.

"A fireman got mum in the car, he jumped in the back and out we went," he said.

With the sun blacked out by smoke, Mr Parkinson, 64, assumed he would not see his home again.

"You could only see 10 foot in front of you," he said. "We had to follow the fire truck out and all you could see was the two little back lights.

"There were flames around the car. We didn't have time to think."

A brave Mrs Parkinson, who has been staying with her daughter since the fire knocked out the home's electricity and water, returned to inspect the scene on Tuesday. With tears in her eyes, Mrs Parkinson appeared dumbfounded to find the house still standing.

"We're damn lucky, we are," she said. "Even the doormat is gone."

The only two horses on the property at the time also miraculously survived unharmed.

Mr Parkinson said his old utility, tractor, several sheds and $150,000 worth of stables and fencing were not so lucky.

Next to Mr Parkinson's property, worker Hung Pham Ngoc was hopeful a water pump destroyed in the blaze could be repaired in time to save his boss' vegetable crops that were not already destroyed by the intense heat.

Another farmer, Giang Ly, said the fire ruined up to 20 per cent of his 500,000 leek crop, but he also had praise for fire crews.

"They're my heroes," he said.

Despite the fire alerts, sales at the Muchea Livestock Centre were not disrupted.

MLC support services manager Dave Saunders said the centre was even offered as a designated safe area for livestock.

"The centre in its construction is fairly fireproof, and in the event of an emergency we have a fire plan we can put into action," he said.

"We could take around 2000 cattle and 6000 sheep in the worst case, as well as most other types of livestock."

Bullsbrook livestock carrier and local good Samaritan Greg Ruff had also offered safe passage for thousands of fire-threatened animals.

Mr Ruff put his offer on the Northern Valley Animal Emergency website to move large volumes of animals out of endangered areas.

As the fires threatened to breach containment lines, many livestock owners in the Muchea and Bullsbrook area became concerned for the welfare of their animals in the event the fires moved into dry-grass farming areas.

Mr Ruff, who works for Mitchell's Transport, said he offered his Kenworth truck, which could move up to 50 cattle, 25 horses or 200 sheep at a time, free of charge if anyone needed to evacuate their livestock quickly.

"I cart all the horses for the rodeo and they're well looked after because I have high animal welfare standards," he said.

"I was extremely worried even for my cattle that I have on Railway Parade in Bullsbrook, because I couldn't access them to give them water because of the road closures."

Mr Ruff said he had received some calls for help after his offer.

"I had some people call me to evacuate some horses from the back of Bullsbrook, but again we couldn't get in there because of road closures," he said. "Fortunately, the fire didn't reach there but it definitely had the potential to on Sunday afternoon."

Mr Ruff said he believed the fire threat to Bullsbrook was still extreme.

"If the winds turn back on the town over the next few days, we could see some more flare-ups," he said. "So my offer still stands. I'm still really concerned because the grass along the railway line in Bullsbrook is very long and dry, and if a fire came through there it would move extremely quickly, putting many people's properties at risk."

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