Some of Australia’s best-known winemakers have been forced to evacuate as a bushfire raging in the Margaret River area of Western Australia approaches.
The southwest tourist hot-spot, about 280km south of Perth, is one of Australia’s most renowned wine-producing regions.
So far at least five vineyards around Margaret River have been evacuated, including the internationally awarded Leeuwin Estate, Xanadu Wines, Cape Mentelle, Voyager Estate and Redgate Wines.
The bushfire began spreading fast across the area on Wednesday morning after a prescribed burn by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) went out of control in the nearby Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
The blaze has already claimed at least 20 properties and burnt through more than 2000 hectares of bushland.
Voyager Estate cellar door manager Janine Carter, told AAP from her home on Thursday, said she and most of her staff lived in the region and were concerned about the approaching fire.
“We took the decision that we would evacuate early,” she said. “That was more in the interests of staff who were concerned about getting home and getting prepared. “It was a pre-emptive move.”
Ms Carter said both Voyager and neighbouring Leeuwin Estate had voluntarily evacuated shortly after 1pm (WST), while other wineries in the region were asked to leave by police later in the afternoon.
A spokeswoman at Leeuwin Estate’s head office in Perth said about 15-20 staff had been evacuated from the Margaret River vineyard. Ms Carter said the conditions on the ground were “very scary”.
“It’s not a good time to be in Margaret River – the winds are howling, it’s very warm and smoke is very evident,” she said. “Obviously we don’t know what’s going on.”
While the evacuation would affect short-term wine production, Ms Carter said it would be “negligible”, with little to no impact overall.