Smoke haze from bushfires in the Gold Coast hinterland blankets Surfers Paradise on Thursday. (AAP: Tim Marsden)
Communities in south-east, southern and central Queensland are bracing for what could be the worst fire conditions for September in the past six years, with severe to extreme fire dangers forecast.
- Strong and gusty winds are expected to bring hot, dry conditions on Friday, with a south-westerly wind change to move across the southern interior in the afternoon
- The conditions will be challenging for firefighters, and bushfires that start will be fast-moving and hard to contain, QFES says
- Residents in affected areas need to be familiar with their bushfire survival plan and make sure properties were clean and accessible where possible
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said locally catastrophic fire conditions were also possible for isolated parts of the southern interior.
There is an extreme fire danger forecast for the Maranoa and Warrego, as well as the Darling Downs and Granite Belt districts.
Severe fire conditions were forecast for the Central Highlands and Coalfields, Wide Bay and Burnett and south-east coast.
The BOM said strong and gusty winds were expected to bring hot, dry conditions today, with a south-westerly wind change to move across the southern interior in the afternoon.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the conditions were unprecedented for early September.
“We have had situations where many of these communities have not experienced any rain, the conditions are really dry,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“That’s got a lot to do with the extended period of drought, plus the strong heat conditions we are seeing at this time of year.”
Ms Palaszczuk said emergency services were well-prepared.
“We already have a dozen aircraft that are already operating or are on standby, and fire bans are in place across the south-east and south-west,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
In Far North Queensland, a home was destroyed and several more threatened in a large and fast-moving blaze that broke out in Biboohra, north of Mareeba, on Thursday, during the hottest part of the day.
A blaze burns along a road near Biboohra, north of Mareeba in Far North Queensland. (ABC News)
Challenging conditions for firefighters
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) Acting Commissioner Mike Wassing said firefighters would be up against extreme conditions.
What is a catastrophic fire?
- A catastrophic fire danger rating is as bad as it gets
- While some homes may survive a severe or extreme fire if you’re well prepared, the Country Fire Authority says no homes are designed to withstand catastrophic conditions
- If a fire starts and takes hold during catastrophic fire conditions, the weather bureau says it will be “extremely difficult to control” and take “significant firefighting resources”
- A catastrophic fire warning was last issued in Queensland in November 2018
- When these warnings are issued, your only safe option is to leave the area early
- The catastrophic category was added following the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria
“These conditions will be challenging for our firefighters, and bushfires will be fast-moving and hard to contain,” he said.
“This is the first time this bushfire season where we will experience conditions like this, and our highly trained and skilled firefighters are ready to respond if required.
“We also have several waterbombing aircraft on standby, ready to respond from Toowoomba, Boonah, Bundaberg and Giru.”
Contract helicopter pilot Nathan Payne said the drought conditions around the Darling Downs region would make waterbombing more difficult.
“A lot of the smaller dams, the farmers’ dams that we utilise at times, are very dry, so it’s going to be difficult to find water,” Mr Payne said.
“We’ll just keep looking and ground crews can sort out collar tanks if we need it, but at the end of day we’ll find water from somewhere and pump it.”
Queensland Fire and Emergency Service Deputy Commissioner Neil Gallant said crews were prepared if they struggled to find water in dams.
“The trucks do carry some water with them, but we can also use some dry firefighting techniques, using bulldozers and graders to create breaks,” he said.
“If the conditions allow, we can do some backburning but sometimes those conditions are too severe to even do backburning.”
Mr Gallant said residents in impacted areas should monitor the fire and weather situation through local radio stations, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and the BOM.
“If they prepare their properties, make sure it’s clear around their houses, make sure they have a plan, and listen to the warnings if they need to evacuate to get out early,” he said.
Communities on alert
Residents Chris and Ken Myers spent yesterday preparing 13 acres of their property at Crows Nest, north of Toowoomba.
The catastrophic fire ratings has only been declared once before, in November last year. (ABC News)
“We’ve cleared around the house … put in fire breaks along fence line, it’s all you can do,” Ms Myers said.
“[The dry] is a massive worry and a massive danger — it really is because you’ve got your dry [weather]… and the wind makes it even more dry because it sucks any moisture out — so it just compounds.”
The couple saw large bushfires come through their property in 2012 that lasted for more than two weeks.
Rural firefighter Leisa Wagstaff, from the Gowrie Little Plain Rural Fire Brigade, urged residents to be familiar with their bushfire survival plan and make sure properties were tidy.
Residents Chris and Ken Myers are preparing their 13-acre property at Crows Nest for bushfires. (ABC News: Ellen Jolley)
“People should be clearing around their houses, getting rid of all rubbish, and slashing if they have got high grass,” she said.
“Cleaning the gutters out and having a clean space around their place … also make sure that trucks can access through their gates if we need to get it.”
Local fire bans were in place for Moreton Bay, Brisbane, Redland, Gold Coast, Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Logan, Scenic Rim, Somerset, Toowoomba, Southern Downs, Western Downs, Goondiwindi, Maranoa, Balonne, North Burnett, South Burnett, Cherbourg, Gympie, Maryborough and Bundaberg areas until midnight Friday.
Smoke haze from Sarabah bushfires obscuring the Gold Coast skyline on Thursday morning. (ABC News)