Australia’s Perth battles bushfire amid COVID-19 lockdown

Perth: A wildfire on the fringes of Australia’s fourth-largest city Perth has destroyed several homes and forced emergency evacuations, authorities said Tuesday, just days after the west coast city entered a coronavirus lockdown.

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Firefighters are battling the out-of-control bushfire on the city’s eastern fringes, where several properties are ablaze and several fields have been blackened.

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Smoke from the fires sent ash falling in the Perth city centre, around 30km away.

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Firefighters were said to be working in “extremely volatile” conditions with temperatures set to hit 37 degrees Celsius.

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“The fire is currently 7,000 hectares in size with the perimeter of around 75km,” Department of Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Craig Waters told media.

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Strong winds overnight forced significant numbers of residents to flee with hundreds expected at evacuation centres, Waters said.

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Locals said they were woken by emergency alerts in the earlier hours of Tuesday.

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“I think it was around 3am, we were standing from our balcony in The Vines and we could see the fire over the hill coming closer,” a woman at an evacuation centre told the ABC.

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Although crews were still assessing the damage, local mayor Kevin Bailey told national broadcaster ABC at least 30 homes were damaged.

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One firefighter was recovering in hospital from smoke inhalation but there were no other reports of injuries, Bailey said.

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The news comes as Perth entered its second full day of a five-day lockdown after a security guard at a quarantine hotel tested positive for Covid-19.

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“Right now, WA is battling two different kinds of emergencies, a dangerous fire emergency and a COVID-19 lockdown emergency,” Premier Mark McGowan told media.

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Under the lockdown, around two million residents of the city, along with residents of nearby Peel and South-West regions, must stay at home.

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Authorities believe the guard contracted the UK-strain of COVID-19 from a returned traveller quarantining in a hotel in Perth.

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The UK variant is among several new strains believed to be more contagious.

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Western Australia was spared the brunt of Australia’s devastating 2019-2020 climate change-fuelled wildfires, which mostly ravaged the country’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria.

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