Fire kills three and closes main transport route into Western Australia

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A fire in the Borrabbin National Park between Southern Cross and Coolgardie Western Australia, has so far burnt out 29,000 hectares and killed three truck drivers when the convoy they were travelling in was engulfed by the flames. Great Eastern Highway the primary road for all traffic from Perth heading to the East Coast of Australia has been closed. An alternate route is in place, police are diverting traffic at Norseman. The diversion adds 250 km(160 mi) for the journey to Perth.

The three truck drivers died on Sunday night after they joined a convoy that was released from Coolgardie after being told that the road was safe. Kieran McNamara director general of the Department of Environment and Conservation(DEC) admitted that it had been caught out by its decision to reopen the road at 8pm (wst) on 30 December.

Mr McNamara said “The decision was made with the advice from people at the firefront, and with the latest weather forecasts, and was judged to be the right decision and the safe decision at the time and in those circumstances… Regrettably and with hindsight, that’s not how it’s turned out.”

The driver of another truck in the convoy that was destroyed escaped with burns to his hands and was rushed through the fire front by firefighters to Yellowdine, another driver was rescued uninjured and return to Coolgardie, a spokesman for Whiteline transport the owners of this truck were thankful their driver survived unharmed saying the cost of the vehicle lost was about AU$400,000 plus cargo. Police confirmed that four trucks were destroyed by the fire.

Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia reported that they were fighting the fire without using water. All efforts were focused on building fire breaks with heavy machinery to contain the fire, that 90 volunteer fire fighters on the scene were there to defend the bulldozers.

The fire is still burning on a 150 km (90 mi) front, DEC spokesman says fire fighters are hoping to bring the fire under control with an expected cool change on Wednesday. The Weather Bureau has forecast temperatures to return above 40°C(105°F) by Thursday.

Local Police say that Great Eastern Highway will remain closed until the fire is under control and the damaged vehicles have been removed from the scene, at this stage its not expected to occur before Sunday.

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