Photo: The Eyre Highway linking WA and South Australia has been closed since last week. (Twitter: Norseman Police)
A large-scale evacuation effort is underway along a 710-kilometre stretch of the Eyre Highway to rescue travellers and truck drivers stranded in Western Australia's south-east by massive bushfires.
Authorities are making use of a brief window of opportunity to move people from Caiguna along the highway to Norseman at the western end of the Nullarbor Plain, and then on to Esperance, as fires continue to burn across the region.
More than 300 people had been left stranded at roadhouses along the major east-west artery after roads including the main highway between WA and South Australia were closed for bushfires on New Years Eve.
Authorities closed the border between WA and SA yesterday.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) superintendent Mark Bowen said firefighters had made good progress on all of the fire fronts over the past couple of days, but conditions were set to get worse.
"We currently have nine fires that we are managing out of Kalgoorlie and they range from out at Balladonia through to Norseman and up to Coolgardie," he said.
"We've had a window of opportunity come up with the weather that's allowed us to start moving some of those trapped people that have been stuck on the Eyre Highway.
"So they're currently moving in a westerly direction, we released them just after six o'clock this morning, they'll be heading through to Norseman and then south out of the fireground areas."
Window of a 'few hours' to move people
Mr Bowen said there were a number of fire fronts south of the highway which were still of concern, but a brief northerly wind change meant the flames were being pushed in the other direction.
"Winds are from the north so pushing those fires away from the highway," he said.
"So [we are] using that opportunity in those few hours, we're moving all of those people that had been at the roadhouses across the highway back through."
Authorities said the operation had taken hours to plan in conjunction with WA Police and Main Roads.
Mr Bowen said the danger was not over and it was important to get everyone off the highway.
"We've got thunderstorms again later this week and we may get additional fires out of them," he said.
"Also the fires that are on the highway there now, they still do pose a risk to the highway."
Aerial checks planned to spot campers
Authorities closed the border yesterday and worked to advise travellers from Border Village out to Caiguna about the evacuation plan.
Firefighters, police and Main Roads crews would be utilised during the operation.
"Once we've got all of the travellers off that we're aware of, we'll do a scan along the highway," Superintendent Bowen said.
"We're also using aircraft, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft along the highway just trying to identify anyone that may be camping in other areas."
The Eyre Highway is still closed to travellers in both directions and is expected to remain closed for a number of days.