Yarloop is healing from the fire.

Town thriving five years after fire’s devastation

Main Image: Yarloop is healing from the fire. Credit: Leesa Sutherland

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Briana FioreHarvey-Waroona Reporter
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Some people thought the collapse of the Timer Mill would spell the end of Yarloop.

Yarloop was a historic timber town.
Camera IconYarloop was a historic timber town. Credit: Shane Taylor

Others thought the expansion of Alcoa could wipe it off the map.

And then a raging bushfire tested the town yet again, when it burnt almost 70,000ha of land in under seven minutes.

Next month marks five years since the deadly bushfire tore through Yarloop.
Camera IconNext month marks five years since the deadly bushfire tore through Yarloop. Credit: Brooke Kau

But Yarloop can’t die.

It won’t die.

Because the locals just won’t let it.

Next month marks half a decade since the harrowing inferno ripped through Yarloop.

Smoke fills the sky.
Camera IconSmoke fills the sky. Credit: Leesa Sutherland
An aerial shot of homes destroyed in Yarloop.
Camera IconAn aerial shot of homes destroyed in Yarloop. Credit: Ray Raab/7 News

The fire destroyed more than 160 houses, claimed the lives of two people and left the town in a smouldering pile of ashes.

It has been five years since the deadly bushfire almost wiped Yarloop off the map.
Camera IconIt has been five years since the deadly bushfire almost wiped Yarloop off the map. Credit: Leesa Sutherland

After five years of heartache, Yarloop is standing tall and proud.

In what was a momentous effort, the locals put their town back together again.

An aerial shot of Yarloop five years after the fires.
Camera IconAn aerial shot of Yarloop five years after the fires. Credit: Yarloop CRC

There has been a population increase, the birth of a new business and a tick of approval for the reconstruction of the town’s workshops.

Successful building permits from the Shire of Harvey show more than 70 new houses in the area.

Although a recent census is yet to be carried out, town leaders are predicting a rise in population due to the high influx of migration into the town.

Real estate agents from Professionals in Waroona said people from Perth, Albany and other big cities had been buying house and land packages in Yarloop — chasing a relaxed lifestyle for their retirement and escaping the hustle and bustle from the city.

However, the elderly are not the only ones investing in the town, with affordable house prices, paired with the access to education also appealing to several younger families.

Some new residents have even moved from interstate — including the Sanders family who shifted from Adelaide after “falling in love with Yarloop”.

Jodie and Kym Sanders were holidaying in WA when they called through the old timber town.

Jodie Sanders opened a home-style kitchen after moving to the town from Adelaide.
Camera IconJodie Sanders opened a home-style kitchen after moving to the town from Adelaide. Credit: Briana Fiore

We have travelled Australia, but have never loved a town like we love Yarloop.

Jodie Sanders

After returning to South Australia, the pair decided to make the move to Yarloop for good.

They have been living in town for just 10 months and said they had been made to feel “so welcome and supported”.

“We just love the community spirit, the friendliness and the small things like the kookaburras that sing every morning,” Mrs Sanders said.

We have made friends for life here already.

Jodie Sanders

Mr Sanders said some of his family had also made the move to Yarloop because of the peaceful atmosphere.

Mrs Sanders is also the owner of the town’s newest business. She opened a kitchen called The Kook’s Nook which does home-style dishes, desserts and pub-style meals.

“The opportunity came up and I decided to give it a crack,” she said.

Kym and and Scott Sanders in The Kooks Nook kitchen.
Camera IconKym and and Scott Sanders in The Kooks Nook kitchen. Credit: Briana Fiore

She said it was all hands on deck in the kitchen with the entire family helping out to keep up with the demand.

CRC manager Julie-Ann Ford has been one of the driving forces behind the town’s rebuild.

Yarloop CRC manager Julie-Ann Ford says the door is always open for those who need a cuppa.
Camera IconYarloop CRC manager Julie-Ann Ford says the door is always open for those who need a cuppa. Credit: Briana Fiore

The centre she runs is the heart of the town and has events and services for all ages.

From the community sundowners, dancing sessions, pool games, doctor’s visits or simply just a cuppa and a biscuit — the door is always open and support is just a phone call away.

I love this town, I feel a real connection to it.

Julie-Ann Ford

“I think we all bonded over the fire recovery period and we know we are all in this together.”

Mrs Ford knows almost everyone in the town and said she felt honoured to serve her community.”

We love the part we play within the community, we give people the opportunity to form friendships and bonds.

Julie-Ann Ford

The CRC also acts as a home for the collaboration of the town’s resources.

The friendly Yarloop officers Sgt Wayne Byram and Sen. Const. Joe Dainty run workshops and community engagement sessions in the hub.

The new officers are a breath of fresh air and have made an outstanding effort to become part of the community.

Sgt Byram said their mission was all about “forging strong, lasting and meaningful relationships within the community”.

“Since the relaxing of the COVID restrictions, we have had regular CRC meetings with community members, providing a brief synopsis of current police work and addressing any community questions,” Sgt Byram said.

The policing duo have also built a relationship with the Yarloop Primary School, to help mentor students and keep them safe online.

Yarloop Sgt Wayne Byram and officer Joe Dainty work closely with the Yarloop Primary School. They are pictured here during a the flag raising ceremony with Yarloop principal Mark Gledhill and students Brenton Payne, 10, Zane Robinson, 11 and Sabriya Hayter, 11.
Camera IconYarloop Sgt Wayne Byram and officer Joe Dainty work closely with the Yarloop Primary School. They are pictured here during a the flag raising ceremony with Yarloop principal Mark Gledhill and students Brenton Payne, 10, Zane Robinson, 11 and Sabriya Hayter, 11. Credit: Briana Fiore

“Throughout the summer we aim to hold police versus students sporting events, a movie night at the CRC and a blue light disco.

The community spirit is strong and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Sgt Wayne Byram

Harvey Shire Council has also been doing its part in ensuring the town gets back on its feet. It has given the stage one Yarloop Workshops design a tick of approval.

Manager of special projects Pauline Pietersen said the design had three stages and would be a huge economic driver in the town once completed.

She said there had been community consultation to deliver something for both the locals and tourists.

Harvey Shire presdeint Paul Gillett and manager of special projects Pauline Pietersen look at the plans for the Yarloop Workshops.
Camera IconHarvey Shire presdeint Paul Gillett and manager of special projects Pauline Pietersen look at the plans for the Yarloop Workshops. Credit: Briana Fiore

“They said that the restoration of the fire shed, the Yarloop CRC and the steam workshops were the top three things they wanted prioritised, so we have been moving to deliver these projects,” Ms Pietersen said.

The Yarloop Fire Shed was completed in 2018 and the Yarloop CRC was completed in 2019, with the construction of the workshops possibly starting as soon as next year.

The old Yarloop Workshops, which are set to be recreated in a monumental move to restore the town's history.
Camera IconThe old Yarloop Workshops, which are set to be recreated in a monumental move to restore the town's history. Credit: Shane Taylor

The design includes a steam workshop, working facilities, a men’s shed, refreshed landscaping, viewing decks and a potential commercial opportunity such as a microbrewery.

Shire president Paul Gillett said he loved coming to Yarloop because it reminded him of his old home.

Cr Gillett grew up in Bencubbin in the Wheatbelt and said Yarloop alone already had a bigger population than his previous shire of Mount Marshall.

Yarloop still has that country charm and I think the peaceful lifestyle is really appealing.

Cr Paul Gillett

“The locals are very welcoming and it’s exciting to see the town grow.”

He said it was great to see Yarloop’s history kept alive through initiatives like the recent unveiling of the Yarloop Heritage Walking Trail.

The trail maps out all the old significant sites — such as the hospital, church and timber pub — which stood before the fires.

Yarloop is continuing to grow after the harrowing bushfire almost wiped the town off the map half a decade ago.
Camera IconYarloop is continuing to grow after the harrowing bushfire almost wiped the town off the map half a decade ago. Credit: Briana Fiore

Cr Gillett said there was a nice juxtaposition between the old and the new within the town, referencing the efforts gone into saving the original facade of the Yarloop Town Hall, which has been resurrected as part of the Yarloop CRC.

Despite the hardships and the long road ahead, the future of Yarloop looks steady. The possibilities for the town are endless.

It could continue to experience rapid residential growth or it could become a tourism hotspot after the completion of the workshops and potential microbrewery — only time will tell.