Shocking map reveals extent of bushfire devastation
Frustrated Fraser Island residents and tourism operators are demanding answers as to how a bushfire became so out-of-control that it incinerated almost half of the world-heritage site and robbed the region of its premier Christmas tourism drawcard.
It comes as the bushfire continues to creep closer to Kingfisher Bay Resort, which was evacuated on Monday.
Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour was yesterday joined by the region's peak tourism body in calling for an official inquiry into a gargantuan bushfire burning on Fraser Island, with operators claiming the fire was the consequence of environmental mismanagement and a delayed response.
Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon on Tuesday defended the government's approach to fire management on the island in the face of the heavy criticism.
The Opposition used question time in Parliament to call for the government to act on the fires - which have burned on the island since October 15.
Ms Scanlon said four planned burns had occurred on the island this fire season at Orchid Beach, Happy Valley, Ocean Lake South and Kingfisher Bay Resort.
"We have implemented significant resources to K'Gari (Fraser Island)," Ms Scanlon told Parliament.
"We have put in place more than 75 personnel and 30 appliances along with aerial support.
"Previous mitigation measures also involved 13,000ha per year on the island burned - more than the recommended 5 per cent."
She said the government allocated $400,000 upgrading tracks on the island, including maintaining fire lines.
More than 30 crews of firefighters, Parks and Wildlife officers and Butchulla Aboriginal corporation personnel were battling the 76,000ha fire yesterday, while 30 trucks and six planes had been dispatched to another bushfire near Stanthorpe as a heatwave forced fire danger ratings to "high" and "very high" levels.
QFES has issued a statement saying "conditions could get worse" on Fraser Island, with the bushfire now about three kilometres north east of Kingfisher Bay Resort.
Firefighters will use waterboming aircraft again in an effort to contain the blaze, which is burning in multiple locations.
"Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) advises there is a bushfire near the Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village on K'gari (Fraser Island) and conditions could get worse," a statement at 10am read.
"Part of the fire is located approximately 3 kilometres north east of Kingfisher Bay Resort and is currently travelling in a southerly direction.
"Another part of the fire is located approximately 4 kilometres to the west of Happy Valley and is travelling in a southerly direction.
"On the eastern side of the island, the fire is located approximately 3 kilometres south of Cathedrals on Fraser and is travelling in a southerly direction towards Eli Creek."
Anyone at the Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village - the island's biggest roust attraction - has this morning been told to prepare to leave, as fire danger escalates into tomorrow.
The bushfire has grown by more than 6000 hectares overnight, experts estimate, with the total area burnt now believed to be 82,000 hectares.
Weather conditions continue to "exacerbate" fire and smoke conditions, QFES said.
The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast very high fire danger for the Wide Bay and Burnett tomorrow - increase from high today.
The island's maximum temperature on Tuesday is 30C, with wind speeds under 20km/h.
A local fire ban is in place for the area, with QFES advising "upcoming fire conditions are perfect for bushfires to ignite and spread quickly."
PREPARE TO LEAVE: K’gari (Fraser Island) bushfire as at 10am Tues 1 Dec. Any person at the Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village should follow directions of Qld Fire and Emergency Service or Qld Parks and Wildlife Service officers. https://t.co/yxgvWf3XWf— Qld Fire & Emergency (@QldFES) December 1, 2020
"Under a local fire ban all open fires are prohibited (subject to exemptions) and all Permits to Light Fire which have been issued in the designated areas have been cancelled," a QFES statement said.
Half of Fraser Island has been burnt by fires in the last 12 months - with the current inferno adding to the devastation of a previous fire that scorched 13,500ha in the island's south late last year - igniting calls from key stakeholders for an inquiry into fire management on the island.
"Whether it is burn-offs, better firebreaks, more resources or an earlier engagement with fires, I believe the State Government needs to look very closely at how this fire got to the stage it is at, and how we can reduce the potential for this to happen again," Mr Seymour said.
Jane Needham of Fraser Dingo 4WD hire said the fire "was left to burn for a month."
"You look at all the forums all the posts all the feedback … it's all the same thing: why was it let go this long? Why are we only dealing with it now?" she said.
Parks and Wildlife officers were monitoring and attempting to contain the fire, which has been burning since October 14, with QFES taking the lead on managing the blaze on Friday. QFES launched a mammoth water bombing operation on Saturday.
Mark Robinson, who operates Drop Bear Adventures with his wife Hana, said Fraser Island generated millions of dollars in revenue for the government but was not getting the "attention and management it deserves".
"This is a nightmare, and every other tour operator on the island feels the same," Mr Robinson said.
From Cathedrals on Fraser - on the island's western coast - General Manager Jack Worcester yesterday told of scorched earth and infernos erupting from wattles and casuarina trees.
"You're probably getting about 10-metre flame heights out of it," he said.
Cathedrals campgrounds had been evacuated three times already, and Mr Worcester said he was expecting to be evacuated again today.
"It's over at Kingfisher at the moment, it's on K'Gari Camp and it's going to be here within probably 24 hours," he said yesterday.
"Hopefully it's quiet enough on the other fronts that they can put some resources with us, previously it's just been us being directly threatened."
The fire, which has already burned more than 76,000ha, or 40 per cent, of the Island, is expected to grow today as a dangerous cocktail of heat, dryness and northerly winds looms.
Yesterday afternoon, the front was about 3km northwest of Kingfisher Bay, while a second front on the eastern side of the island was about 3km south of Cathedrals on Fraser.
Incident Controller Superintendent James Haig said a dedicated team of fire behaviour analysts were using scanning technology and detailed weather forecasts to predict the movement of the fire.
"We're picking where we can have most effect and doing things to protect and mitigate (damage to) the values that are on Fraser Island," he said.
"We're going to struggle to bring it into containment while we have the current weather conditions," Supt Haig said.
"Until we get substantial rain this fire is going to continue to be a difficult fire to manage."
The Department of Environment and Science has closed Fraser Island to new visitors until December 13, with other parts of the island restricted until as late as January 24.
Yesterday the island's premier attraction, Kingfisher Bay resort, announced it would close until December 14.
"It's a tough blow on the back of COVID to have the major resort on the Island have to close and have to move guests out," Fraser Coast Tourism and Events General Manager Martin Simons said.
"(But) operators haven't given up on Christmas … the island is quick to regenerate with green shoots already in the north."
When asked whether the Department of Agriculture and Science would consider an inquiry into fire management on Fraser Island, a Government spokeswoman said the "top priority at present remains attempting to control the fire."
Meanwhile near Stanthorpe, a senior firefighting source told The Courier-Mail yesterday 30 trucks and six planes and at least one waterbombing helicopter had been also used to control another fire.
Temperatures are expected to rise again today, reaching 35C and then 37C on Wednesday, before the chance of rain leading into the weekend.
"It's very rough country (where the bushfire is)," the firefighter said.
The blaze is burning several kilometres southwest from the scene of the region's worst bushfire in 60 years, last September.
Originally published as Shocking map reveals extent of Fraser devastation