Veteran Rural Fire Brigade officers Shaun Williams and Michael Bird man tanks used to fill water bombers at Gympie Airport.
Veteran Rural Fire Brigade officers Shaun Williams and Michael Bird man tanks used to fill water bombers at Gympie Airport.

The rugged fight firefighters face at Kilkivan today

RUGGED country is the biggest hurdle facing firefighters who are taking on the raging blaze that has taken hold in Black Snake Range, Widgee Rural Fire Brigade warden George Cotter said.

Mr Cotter said the fire had crept over the Widgee side of the range and billows of smoke were visible from the township about 20kms to the east.

“It’s really difficult to combat a fire in such rugged country,” he said.

Becker Helicopters pilot Fergus Ponder and QFES Acting Area Director Ross Stacey get ready to leave Gympie Airport, where water bombers are filling up to
Becker Helicopters pilot Fergus Ponder and QFES Acting Area Director Ross Stacey get ready to leave Gympie Airport, where water bombers are filling up to "air attack" the bushfire at Black Snake.

Queensland Fire Emergency Service acting area director Ross Stacey, who directed air attacks on the Cooroibah, Kandanga and Peachester fires, is now guiding water bombers at Black Snake.

From the air yesterday he could see the extent of the conditions firefighters were facing on the ground.

Veteran Rural Fire Brigade officers Shaun Williams and Michael Bird man tanks used to fill water bombers at Gympie Airport.
Veteran Rural Fire Brigade officers Shaun Williams and Michael Bird man tanks used to fill water bombers at Gympie Airport.

Parts of the fire were in areas that had not burnt in living memory, residents have said.

Mr Stacey said thick, timbered country covers the steep ridge of the range between Widgee and Kilkivan, which connects to farming properties.

The dense bushland meant there were limited options in establishing and maintaining containment lines.

BATTLE: Firefighters back burn yesterday to stop the fire at Black Snake jumping into properties on Jackson, Webb and Mariner Rds on top of the range.
BATTLE: Firefighters back burn yesterday to stop the fire at Black Snake jumping into properties on Jackson, Webb and Mariner Rds on top of the range.

“The crews are working in extremely difficult conditions,” he said.

“There is not a lot of water and it’s smoky and dusty.”

The focus yesterday was on watching fire breaks.

“The wind can be very erratic – we are seeing a lot of things behave differently to usual,” Mr Stacey said.

QFRS Planning officer acting inspector Chris Martial at Gympie Fire Station on Tuesday morning, where an incident control centre has been set up for the Black Snake fire.
QFRS Planning officer acting inspector Chris Martial at Gympie Fire Station on Tuesday morning, where an incident control centre has been set up for the Black Snake fire.

More than 500,000 litres of water have been filled at Gympie Airport since last Tuesday to drop on fires in the greater region.

Rural fire tankers and a Gympie Regional Council truck are supplying water to four “attack planes” and a water helicopter at the airport, while one helicopter is working as a spotter.

Veteran Rural Fire Brigade volunteer Michael Bird, who was manning a truck at the airport, had just returned from deployment to bushfires in New South Wales.

Stationed at Nymboida in the Northern Tablelands, where fire swept through three days ago, Mr Bird compared the southerly conditions to those of the Woolooga bushfire in October last year.

Gympie Regional Council plant operator Shayne Cumner carries water to the Gympie Airport to fill water bombers for their air assault on the raging Black Snake bushfire.
Gympie Regional Council plant operator Shayne Cumner carries water to the Gympie Airport to fill water bombers for their air assault on the raging Black Snake bushfire.

At one stage his crew was forced to flee from the scene when flames that had leapt into tree tops reached 30 metres high.

“We had to pull out in a hurry,” Mr Bird said.

“The weather was against us.”

The volunteer firefighter said people were remaining resilient, despite facing days of uncertainty.

Becker Helicopters pilot Fergus Ponder gets ready to leave Gympie Airport, where water bombers are filling up to
Becker Helicopters pilot Fergus Ponder gets ready to leave Gympie Airport, where water bombers are filling up to "air attack" the bushfire at Black Snake.

“People are really appreciative,” he said.

“The crews are working really well down there and have integrated really well with all of the units.

“People are remaining positive and doing what they can.”

Fire warden George Cotter said the length of the Black Snake fire front could prove challenging with wind changes today possibly presenting different fire fronts.

“Wherever there’s fire at the moment it’s a real worry.”