Firefighters on Fraser Island are strengthening their defences against a seven-week-old bushfire that has destroyed almost half of the world-heritage-listed national park.
Water bombers have dumped more than a million litres of water and fire-retardant gel on the blaze, which has razed 81,500 hectares of vegetation since being sparked by an illegal campfire.
But the loose soil on the world’s largest sand island is causing the liquid to drain away quickly in the inaccessible bush-covered dunes where the fire continues to burn on multiple fronts.
One is about 2km east-northeast of Kingfisher Bay Resort and heading in a south-easterly direction toward the popular holiday spot.
Guests were evacuated on Monday and most staff followed late on Wednesday.
QFES took over management of the fire from the national park’s ranger service on Friday.
It immediately ordered tourists to stay away from the island, closing access to all people except residents and essential workers.
Visitors already on the island have been told to stay close to campsites and avoid travelling on inland tracks and roads.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday ordered a review into the Department of Environment and QFES emergency response to the blaze.
“The sight of it burning is so painful,” she told parliament.
“It’s understandable that those who love the island want to be assured that everything that could be done to protect it has and is being done.
“That is why I can confirm the Inspector-General Emergency Management has been instructed to conduct a full review. He will examine all aspects of preparedness and response.”
The giant blaze is thought to have been started by an illegal campfire on October 14.
Fraser Island is about 250km north of Brisbane and 123km long.
According to The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, it covers 181,851 hectares.
On the eastern side of the island, the fire is about 3 kilometres south of the evacuated Cathedrals on Fraser camping grounds.
The Department of Environment, which oversees Queensland Parks and Wildlife (QPWS) said the blaze had been fuelled by poor weather conditions, but had not yet reached the rainforest.
“The island’s closed forest communities, including tall rainforest with their more moist conditions, continue to inhibit the fire’s movement across the island,” a spokesperson told the ABC in a statement.
Extensive water bombing continues to slow the blaze but authorities warn a persistent heatwave could see weather conditions deteriorate
Fraser Island (K’gari) will regenerate after fire
University of Queensland Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Rod Fensham told the ABC he is confident that the bushland on Fraser Island will quickly regenerate when the devastating fire has passed.
“From a botanical perspective, I’m not worried about fires,” Professor Fensham said.
“I know they’ve been happening for millions of years … so it’s got a long history of being able to cope with it.
“When the rain falls again – and it almost certainly will this summer – those trees and shrubs will start re-sprouting, those little baby seedlings will germinate, and the bush will start to regenerate.”
Wildlife ‘really going to suffer’ impacts of the blaze
University of Queensland Honorary Fellow Christine Hosking told the ABC local fauna would “suffer” after a fire of this size – either directly dying in the blaze or due to reduced food supplies.
“My concerns for the ecology on the island are pretty grave,” Ms Hosking said.
“The smaller animals, the insects – that feed the birds, the echidnas and the other small animals that are on the island – are really going to suffer.
“If they don’t get burned outright in the fires, then of course they lose their food sources so a lot of them will starve.”