Holidaymakers are being asked to stay away from Fraser Island as authorities struggle to control a large bushfire that’s expected to spread over the coming days.
Reinforcements are today being sent to help consolidate control lines across the expansive island ahead of an expected unfavourable wind change this weekend.
The fire has burnt through 72,000 hectares of land on the World Heritage-listed island since starting from an illegal campfire on October 15.
Rural fire service area director Michael Koch said the wind was due to switch from a southerly to a northerly on Sunday and could potentially turn the bushfire towards communities of Happy Valley and Cathedrals on the island’s eastern side.
On Friday morning, the fire was north of the Kingfisher Bay Resort on the island’s western side.
Firefighters and traditional owners are working on how to defend that area over the weekend, however, they’re currently being hampered by stronger-than-expected winds.
“At this stage there is no threat to communities [but] having more people on the island creates more of a challenge for firefighting operations,” Mr Koch said.
Fifteen crews have been sent to the fire front including firefighters, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Rangers and Butchulla rangers.
So far waterbombing aircraft have been no match for the island’s thick vegetation and sandy soils.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) commissioner Greg Leach said specialist crews were also mapping the likely spread of the fire over the next few days.
“We’ve sent in a team of specialist fire behaviour analysts and mapping crews today,” Mr Leach said on Friday.
“It is very dry at the moment, there has not been significant rainfall on the island for some time,” he said.
“The fire is being driven by northerly winds in the afternoon which pick up and drive that fire southward and then late in the afternoon we will get a south-easterly coastal sea breeze and it tends to push the fire back on itself.
“But it is largely inaccessible and difficult for our firefighting crews to access.
“We are seeing reasonable weather conditions today and tomorrow but then the weather starts to spike up on us on Sunday and into Monday.
“So we are trying to consolidate some control lines on the south side of the fire at the moment.”
He said there has been an impact on wildlife.
“We do know from talking to fire fighters that a lot of the wildlife is escaping ahead of the fire into the southern part of the island,” he said.
“The fire is fairly slow moving at the moment so wildlife does have an opportunity to get out of its way.”
A fire ban will come into place from Saturday to Wednesday for the Logan, Scenic Rim, Ipswich, Lockyer Valley, Somerset and Gold Coast areas.
A heatwave is forecast for parts of Queensland over the weekend and into next week, with QFES saying conditions were “perfect for bushfires to ignite and spread quickly”.
Resident preparing for weekend
Happy Valley residents and business owners are staying vigilant after the fire had travelled towards the area earlier this week.
“On Tuesday we were told there could be embers, so we did some preparation – raking leaves, wetting gardens down,” Fraser Island Retreat manager Darren Smith said.
“As it turned out there were no embers at all so it was all good. It’s better to be over prepared than underprepared.
“They’re keeping us advised all the time so we feel pretty well informed.”
Campers Jacob Forbes and Katie Stilgoe are staying on the island’s western side and said they felt safe.
Mr Forbes decided to go ahead with their trip after gaining an aerial view of the island on his flight to work in Mackay.
“We could see Lake Mackenzie clear and I said, ‘call up and book that barge, we’re going camping’,” he said.
“We were a bit cautious about it but it seems to be okay,” Ms Stilgoe added.
Cathedrals campground manager Jack Worcester said the bushfire was another blow in a tough year.
“After COVID we had a really good resurgence [in business],” he said.
“Now to have this fire scaring everyone away, it’s tough.
“We’ve all got our fingers crossed for rain. That’s the the only thing that’s going to knock this fire out.”