Australia tells thousands to leave homes as bushfire threatens Perth


A Department of Fire and Emergency Services fire fighter battles a bushfire in Brigadoon, Perth, Australia, February 2, 2021. AAP Image/Supplied by Department of Fire and Emergency Services, Evan Collis/via REUTERS

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Strong winds threatening to fan a bushfire prompted Australia on Wednesday to urge thousands of people to leave their homes in the provincial capital of Perth, complicating a lockdown after the state detected its first coronavirus infection in 10 months.

The fire in Western Australia has destroyed a swathe of more than 9,000 hectares (22,240 acres) and 71 homes, the authorities say, in a reminder of blazes that destroyed millions of hectares of habitat in the country's east a year ago.

As firefighters battled a blaze in steep, inhospitable terrain, authorities told residents of Bullsbrook, a suburb of 6,600 in Australia's fourth largest city, to ignore a stay-home order and leave immediately as hot, dry weather picked up.

"We know how quickly things can go bad," state premier Mark McGowan told a news conference, adding that one of his personal acquaintances had lost their home.

"They are expecting extremely strong winds. That is why we are saying, if you can leave, please leave now. Please act to save your life."

At the same time, 2 million residents of the city are under a five-day lockdown until Friday, after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for the highly contagious variant of the virus first detected in Britain.

The rules require them to stay home, except for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping or exercise, while visits to hospitals and nursing homes are banned.

"It's important everyone should have a plan and when emergency service personnel ask you to act on that plan, that trumps any lockdown orders," David Littleproud, the emergency management minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"There should be no confusion about that."

No deaths have been reported from the fires, the origins of which are still unknown.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

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