UPDATE 10:47am: Hundreds of distressed residents poured into Margaret River recreation centre this morning to learn the full impact of the horrific bushfire still bearing down on the town.
Dozens still have no idea how damaged their properties are or whether they will have a home to return to.
Shire president Ray Collier was visibly distressed as he addressed the crowd and tried to give perspective to the damage inflicted.
He told the crowd he expected the State Government to provide financial support to deal with the disaster.
"We're a strong community, we've had fires before... I'm sure that the country spirit is strong and there's certainly going to be people who will need comforting support," he said.
"The community's been great. We've had so much offers of support, it's very humbling to know that the people of the Augusta-Margaret River shire understand the difficult times the people are going through."
The majority of questions from the crowd related to trying to pinpoint exactly which roads and areas had been impacted by fire.
DEC incident controller Roger Armstrong said he did not want people to find out about possible loss of property through the media and all attempts were being made to contact impacted residents personally.
At the end of the meeting, Mr Collier said everyone who had lost a home so far had now been contacted.
Another public meeting will be held at 3pm.
Earlier the DEC revealed the prescribed burn which got out of control and destroyed at least 20 homes was started two months ago.
As firefighters brace for another tough day with conditions similar to yesterday and 65km/h winds predicted, fire incident controller Roger Armstrong said the prescribed burn was started on September 6.
He told a media briefing that once a prescribed burn started it had to be maintained until it was safe.
The fire was managed over several weeks but it escaped the boundary yesterday, he said.
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Mr Armstrong said the priority for the day was to maintain containment of the fire which was 80 per cent tracked.
“The only part we haven’t got tracked is north of the Margaret River mouth, north of Preston town site,” he said.
“Obviously, that is a concern for us today with north-side winds, so a lot of our efforts will be focused on the town of Prevelly Park.
“The other area of concern is on the eastern side.”
Volunteers and officials from brigades across WA, along with police, the DEC, FESA, Red Cross, the Department of Child Protection and a host of other community agencies are involved in the firefighting effort.
Mr Armstrong confirmed 19 homes have been destroyed or badly damaged, mostly in the Wallcliffe subdivision.
The only access to Prevelly Park is through the bushfire. The area is closed to traffic today.
At 9.30am, there was still an unknown number of people stranded on the beach.
Just before 9.30am, the fire was burning towards the coast in a south-westerly direction.
Meanwhile, residents’ anxious wait to know if their homes are still standing is expected to be over within minutes.
More than 100 residents have gathered at the evacuation centre for a community meeting at 10am.
Many have walked in with little hope their homes have survived the devastating bush fires, less than 10 kilometres from the town’s centre.
Burnside man Corey Jones said the situation was surreal.
“It’s a bit weird, I’ve just phoned a friend and told them I’m going down into town to find out if the house is still there,” he said.
Mr Armstrong said 60 prescribed burns had been carried out in the area in the past month, 40 of which were near "assets".
He rejected suggestions the department started the burn during a catastrophic fire warning and that it relied on weather forecasts from the weather bureau.
Mr Armstrong said homes were still at risk from the fire.
Firefighters expected cooler conditions later in the day but "we have several hours before that", he said.
On a day one experienced firefighter called "as bad as they come", flames carved a path of destruction around the coastal hamlets of Ellensbrook to the north and Prevelly to the south of the South West tourist town yesterday.
Anger is growing in the community that the fire emergency was caused by prescribed burns that got out of control.
Up to 90 per cent of the fire is contained but not controlled out to existing breaks but the Department of Environment and Conservation is warning that the high winds could cause the fire to flare out of control again.
The fire has burned through 1800 hectares.
More than 400 fire personnel from DEC, local volunteer bushfire brigades and Fire and Rescue Service are on the scene and worked through the night.
Local disaster and community welfare workers are assisting the community.
Rotary and fixed-wing water bombers will today assist ground crews. A large number of fire trucks and heavy machines have been sent to the area from around the South West.
Yesterday, homes in Wooditch Road and Orchid Ramble, off Wallcliffe Road, are understood to have been the worst hit. It was believed that historic Ellensbrook Homestead had been lost, but it was unscathed.
Hundreds of people from Prevelly, Burnside, Kilcarnup, Wilderness and Gnarabup were still waiting for news last night on whether their homes had survived after authorities ordered them to evacuate shortly before midday.
Surfpoint Backpackers' Hostel manager Will Carter said more than 200 Prevelly residents had gathered on the beach near the Margaret River mouth after being forced out of their homes.
Another 140 people were sheltering at an evacuation centre in Margaret River.
More than 100 career and volunteer firefighters as well as water bombers battled to control the blaze, which flared when embers from a prescribed burn blew ahead of their containment lines.
At 9am, FESA advised an EMERGENCY WARNING was still in place for people in Ellensbrook, the Kilcarnup, Prevelly and Wilderness subdivisions and the area north of Wallcliffe Rd and east of Caves Rd in the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River.
WHAT TO DO- People living or travelling in the area need to be alert and aware of fire and other emergency services personnel working on site and take their advice.
- Although the fire threat has temporarily eased conditions may worsen at any time and people in this area still need to have their bushfire survival plan in action.
An emergency relocation welfare centre has been opened at the Margaret River Cultural Centre on Wallcliffe Road.
Police have advised leavers travelling to the Margaret River region to check the impact of the fire with their accommodation provider prior to travel.
Leavers travelling to the Dunsborough or Busselton area are advised they can travel as planned.
Police say the impact on leavers is expected to be minimal.
Frustration and chaos reigned at a heated public meeting last night when the Fire and Emergency Services Authority admitted it could give only “flimsy” information to fire-stricken locals.
Last night, deputy incident controller Chris Widmer told nearly 150 people — most in shock — he was still struggling to find out what was going on at the Margaret River fire front.
“We hope to be able to speak to people who have suffered losses as soon as we can,” he said.
“Our aim is to consolidate the fire lines tonight.”
Mr Widmer conceded he had been put in the role a short time before he was told he was to front the meeting.
For those who feared they had lost homes, it was not enough after waiting an hour for FESA officials to address the meeting.
Residents in Orchid Ramble told the meeting they only received warning text messages hours after the fires forced them to flee.
Orchid Ramble resident Lane Alver said FESA was fortunate most people at the meeting were too shocked to be angry.
“This fire should never have happened in the first place,” he said, furious over prescribed burns.
“We had new additions and they’re gone, our house is probably a shell.”
“This is extremely frustrating and they haven’t told us anything.
“We’re not going to be able to get any sleep tonight.”
Locals tried to comfort each other, while many tried to indentify their homes on aerial footage from TV stations.
Mr Widmer said it could be tomorrow before residents knew if they had homes to return to and he did not know when they could go back.
Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said the State Emergency Co-Ordination Group was on standby and an emergency situation had been declared to help agencies on the ground.
The SECG met yesterday afternoon and last night to prepare for the worst-case scenario today.
Mr O'Callaghan warned about 140 school leavers who were intending to travel to Margaret River for leaver celebrations to stay away from the area during the emergency.
A spokesman for the Department of Environment and Conservation said the fire was originally started in September but had to be restarted several times since, including on Monday, because of difficulties with the weather.
DEC deputy bushfire control officer David Holland said firefighters had been faced with an uphill task because the fire was being fanned by hot, dry, north-easterly winds and significant fuel loads in the heavily forested area.
He warned that affected residents were unlikely to be let back into their properties until at least noon today as search and rescue officers assessed the damage. "It's as bad as it gets - not good," Mr Holland said.
Amid the disaster yesterday, local residents described plumes of thick smoke that left the area in darkness and walls of flames up to "a couple of storeys high".