South-West fires: former Victorian Country Fire Authority head to conduct inquiry

120 homes were lost in Yarloop
South-West fires: former Victorian Country Fire Authority head to conduct inquiry
120 homes were lost in Yarloop

The former head of the Victorian Country Fire Authority Euan Ferguson will conduct an independent inquiry into the Yarloop-Waroona bushfires, WA Premier Colin Barnett announced today (January 20).

Mr Barnett toured the historic town of Yarloop, where two lives were lost and more than 90 per cent of the town was destroyed.

Premier Colin Barnett

More than 160 homes in the South-West region were lost and 120 of them were in Yarloop.

About 100 residents packed into the Yarloop Bowling Club to meet with Mr Barnett, Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis and Regional Development Minister Terry Redman.

Darlene Maybourne, who rents her Yarloop home from mining giant Alcoa, said she hoped the Mr Barnett would bring them some good news.

�We are in limbo,� she said.

�We don�t have to pay rent for at least four weeks but there�s a lot of damage.

�Our family are here and we are trying to keep positive, we want to stay as long as we can.�

Other residents were angry and left the meeting, another interrupted the Premier.

�If you�re going to shut the town down, tell us now,� he shouted.

Mr Barnett told him that he could not give him an answer, but said �there will be a Yarloop� in the future.

He said this would depend on how many people would like to return to town.

The inquiry conducted by Mr Ferguson should be completed within two to three months.

He will have all the powers of a royal commissioner and be supported by all the required government agencies.

�He will be resourced to conduct an inquiry that is fully independent and not controlled by political parties or individuals,� Mr Barnett said.

He said that everyone is stressed in this situation, and encouraged the townspeople to speak to Mr Ferguson and not to hold back.

Mr Barnett said that no matter what comes out of the inquiry, �we live in a hot dry climate�.

�Nothing could have stopped these fires,� he said.

Mr Francis said he hoped the inquiry would ensure any changes in the way the government tackles fire will be in place before the next fire season,

David French has lived in Yarloop for 27 years and his family lost everything in the fires.

Yarloop residents

�We just bought our house and renovated it,� he said.

�Every bloody cent we had went into that place.�

Mr French, his wife Jenni Tillman-French, sons Fynn (13), Keelan (12) and Bayleigh (4) returned to town despite asbestos fears.

Car melted

It will cost Western Power more than $26 million to restore lost services.

Many more millions will need to be invested toward the town clean up and fixing main roads.

But, what the townspeople of Yarloop fear most right now is mining giant Alcoa.

Residents fear Alcoa

For more than 20 years some residents of the town have been trying to prove that Alcoa�s Wagerup refinery has caused them a myriad of health problems.

John (last name withheld) moved to Yarloop in 1979 and he said Alcoa put in place a buffer zone around the refinery.

People living within the buffer zone were offered a payout to leave their homes.

According to John, anyone who bought homes in the buffer zone following the payout had to sign a waiver saying they accepted the health risks associated with living there.

This sparked a mass exodus from the town, as did the closure of the local timber mill.

He said the residents of Yarloop are terrified that Alcoa will use the fires as an excuse to increase the buffer zone and push them out of town.

Many people living in the town rent their properties from Alcoa and they also fear their leases will not be renewed.

There are also fears that the fires will spark a final exodus of residents sounding a final death knell for the town.

Yarloop Hotel

Alcoa have been contacted for comment.