71 homes destroyed as Australia bushfire rages near locked-down Perth

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Perth (Australia) (AFP)

At least 71 homes have been destroyed in a bushfire raging out of control near Australia's fourth-biggest city Perth, authorities said Wednesday, as they told residents to ignore a virus lockdown and evacuate threatened areas.

The blaze has torn through large swathes of land in the Perth Hills and was moving towards more densely populated areas.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported so far.

"To the people who have lost their homes, it's just devastating for them. Our thoughts go out to them," Western Australian fire commissioner Darren Klemm said.

Several emergency warnings were issued with conditions set to worsen later Wednesday and strong gusting winds expected to fan the flames.

As the firefront moved west toward more populated areas, Klemm called on locals to act swiftly to escape the potentially deadly blaze.

"What we don't want is indecision from people about whether they should evacuate or not when we require them to evacuate," he said.

"So that evacuation overrides any quarantining requirements that people may have."

Hundreds of people have fled the area since the bushfire was sparked on Monday, with many sleeping in evacuation centres overnight and authorities expressing relief that no deaths had been recorded.

Bushfire smoke has blanketed Perth, about 30 kilometres west of the blaze which had a 75-kilometre (47-mile) perimeter Tuesday and was burning across more than 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres).

"It was just scorched earth. Even where I was behind the fire there was a lot of active burning because the crews just had to react so fast," local mayor Kevin Bailey told public broadcaster ABC.

Temperatures were forecast to peak at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday before a predicted ex-tropical cyclone could bring rain and cooler temperatures but more unpredictable winds later this week.

Klemm cautioned there were "challenging times ahead, and that's once again the clear message to the community... there is still a long way to go with this fire".

More than 200 firefighters were battling the bushfire supported by water-bombing aircraft.

It comes as two million people in and around Perth begin their third day under stay-at-home orders.

Authorities called a snap five-day lockdown after a security guard contracted the UK strain of Covid-19, apparently from a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.

More than 3.5 million hectares were burned across Western Australia during the country's devastating 2019-2020 climate change-fuelled bushfires but the state was largely spared the loss of properties and lives seen in Australia's more densely populated southeast.