In mid-February fires started by lightning ripped through the shires of Nannup, Donnybrook-Balingup, Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Manjimup, burning through Southampton, Greenbushes, the western part of Bridgetown, Hester Brook, Wandillup and Maranup. At the peak of the conflagration nine separate fires were burning.
More than 200 fire-fighters battled to bring them under control, assisted by six water bombers and two helicopters. Residents were forced to flee their homes as the ferocious blaze spread through more than 3000ha of bushland.
The impact upon the Bibbulmun Track was considerable, with approximately 11km of the Track being affected directly by the fire, from Spring Gully Road to a point south of the bridge spanning Southampton Road.
There is some good news in that the shelter at the Blackwood Campsite, one of the most picturesque on the Track, escaped with minor damage to the guttering. This is incredible considering the fire came right up to the shelter as you can see by the trees in this photo.
However the dunny was destroyed. (see below). The gods of fire clearly have very specific targets!
The very bad news is that the beautiful and historic Southampton Homestead, built in 1859, was gutted by the fire, and a second property close by was also destroyed.
The sympathy of the BTF goes out to all owners of properties that have suffered loss, but especially to Jeff Pow and his family of the Southampton Homestead, great supporters of the Track, who have allowed Bibbulmun Track walkers to trek through their private domain.
The major problem is that Southampton Road Bridge is now sitting in the bottom of the river (photo above), and this was the only viable all seasons crossing point of the Blackwood River for a long, long way.
A diversion will be in place by the end of April and walkers are advised to use it. Unfortunately, the diversion will be long (almost 40km), the main reason being that most of the fire swept through pine forest. The roots of pine trees continue to burn underground, so while the pine trees may still be standing they could be very unstable, particularly in windy conditions, making it very hazardous for walkers attempting to trek through the forest.
Instead of taking the diversion, walkers could arrange transport from Balingup to the point on the Brockman Highway, near Karri Gully, where the Track crosses the road and walk on from there to Donnelly River Village. Unfortunately there is no taxi service in Balingup, so this would probably involve organising a taxi from Bridgetown. Alternatively there is a Transwa coach service that runs from Balingup to Pemberton. Walkers thinking of using this service should check the timetable on the Transwa website at www.transwa.wa.gov.au
These fires were caused by nature, but serve to remind us all of the devastation fire can bring to the bush. Please remember to be cautious when lighting campfires in the campsites where fires are permitted, keep them small and always ensure fires are completely extinguished before you leave the area.
Postscript: The devastation caused by bushfires can be enormous, but it is heartening to see how swiftly the bush regenerates after a fire. The picture below was taken recently on part of the Bibb Track that was closed after a huge bushfire south of Northcliffe in February 2012. What was reduced to a desolate landscape has recovered well over twelve months and a bumper wildflower season is predicted in the area.