More than 100 blazes continue to threaten townships across Queensland and NSW after destroying dozens of homes, as authorities warn of more danger to come.
Firefighters battled catastrophic bushfires through Saturday night, with 62 blazes raging across New South Wales – 24 of those uncontained.
At least six homes have been lost due to the blazes in NSW, while bushfires have destroyed 17 houses in Queensland.
Among the casualties is the historic and heritage-listed Binna Burra Lodge, which was reduced to ash and rubble early on Sunday morning as the wind-driven fire front raged into the Gold Coast hinterland.
“Early this morning it crept into the Binna Burra resort and there has been significant structural loss,” said Scenic Rim Regional Council Mayor Greg Christensen, who urged people not to risk returning home before authorities advise them it it is safe.
“The reality is we should expect significant structural loss (and) that has already occurred, and potentially much more loss.
“That is what is deeply concerning, and fairly difficult … The really great news is that we continue to enjoy the outcome that we have had no loss of life.”
Watch and Act warnings remained in place for NSW fires at Bees Nest in Armidale and another at Long Gully Road in Drake, east of Tenterfield.
Some 42 bushfires continue to burn throughout Queensland and the towns of Applethorpe and Stanthorpe remain the main concern, with windy conditions forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM).
The fire is travelling in a north-north-easterly direction towards Applethorpe and is expected to impact properties on Ellwood Road, Kelly Road and Allen Lane. Residents have been advised to leave now.
And relief from the threat is likely to be days away.
Senior BoM forecaster Sam Campbell told the ABC extreme conditions would prevail until Tuesday.
“We’ll just continue to see dry, westerly winds and temperatures getting up into the low 20s, but probably the main issue is going to be the wind combined with the relative humidity which will be dropping down to the low 20s again,” he said.
Armidale, Clarence Valley, Glen Innes, Inverell, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha local government areas have been declared natural disaster zones, allowing residents to access state and federal financial support.
The Insurance Council has also declared a catastrophe for bushfires that have destroyed homes or property in the state’s north, giving priority to claims from affected policyholders.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has assured those affected by the blazes, along with fires burning in Queensland, that they will get help if they require it.
“You will get all the support that is needed,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Qld blazes continue
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned the danger is not over yet for the state.
Almost 70 fires raged across Queensland on Saturday, leading to evacuation orders for the border community of Applethorpe and ‘prepare to leave’ warnings for nearby Stanthorpe and in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services reported 11 homes have been lost in Sarabah and Binna Burra near the Gold Coast, as well as three in the Southern Downs region and one in the far north.
Have you seen waterbombing aircraft over the Gold Coast hinterland? We’ve had 10 working in the area today. Here’s a look at their flight paths (aka how busy they’ve been) 😮 pic.twitter.com/vF9SvkewEM
— Qld Fire & Emergency (@QldFES) September 8, 2019
Most of the state is rated a ‘very high’ fire danger due to gusty winds and dry conditions, which are expected to continue Sunday.
“We will not have this fire under control before Monday,” QFES assistant commissioner Megan Stiffler told a community meeting in Stanthorpe.
“We have days ahead of us and lots of hard work through the night to secure all edges of this fire.”
Winds both along the coast and inland are expected to ease back from Tuesday.
On Saturday night, Queensland FES advised conditions around the bushfire in Applethorpe are getting worse, telling locals to evacuate.
The Qld Fire Service battling the blaze threatening Stanthorpe. Already the fire has forced scores to evacuate and cut power to 6,500 residences. pic.twitter.com/BbRx3YR8YT
— George Roberts (@George_Roberts) September 6, 2019
“Follow your bushfire survival plan now. If you do not have a plan, your safest option is to leave now if it is clear to do so. If you are not in the area, do not return, as conditions are too dangerous,” it said in a statement.
Ms Palaszczuk urged people in danger zones to keep listening for any orders to evacuate, after one person who refused to leave put personnel in danger.
On Saturday night, prepare to leave orders were issued for Beechmont as part of the Binna Burra fire approaches the town.
Ominous bushfire warnings
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the fires were a strong indicator of a perilous bushfire season ahead.
“Because of the dry conditions, these fires are starting and progressing quickly and there are extremely windy conditions that we have seen the last 24 hours, and are expected to see further,” he said.
“It is a sobering reminder of what is ahead, with the outlook indicating the next three or four months is dominated by above-average temperatures, below average rainfall and unfortunately there is no meaningful signal anywhere for drought-breaking, relieving rain.”
The NSW Bureau of Meteorology released satellite images showing the extent of the smoke cover as it moved out over the Tasman Sea with the help of strong westerly winds.
Smoke from fires burning in the North East can be seen on the visible satellite image, but not seen on the infrared image, travelling over the Tasman Sea due to the strong westerly winds. Check for details; @NSWRFS for fire bans and further #bushfire info. pic.twitter.com/1KYG8OXTHm
— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) September 6, 2019
NSW firefighter critical
A 66-year-old volunteer firefighter suffered serious burns to his hands, arm, legs, back, face and airways on Friday while he and a colleague fought the Mount Mackenzie Road fire, which had burned more than 3500 hectares south of the Tenterfield township by Saturday afternoon.
Tenterfield local Neville Smith was stabilised at the local hospital, intubated and then flown to Royal Brisbane Hospital, where he remains in a critical-but-stable condition.
“He is expected to remain in the intensive care unit for some time,” RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters on Saturday.
The truck he was in was destroyed by fire but his colleague was unharmed.
“It is a sobering reminder how dangerous and volatile these firegrounds are and particularly given the underlying drought conditions and the dryness in the vegetation,” he said.
No words to describe it
Stanthorpe resident Samantha Wantling told the ABC said there were “no words” to describe the devastation.
“It really is just something you see on movies or read about you just don’t expect to be looking at it in your own backyard,” she said.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said.
“There was no power, it was pitch black and it might sound so melodramatic but people just standing there – it was just like you’re watching the town burn, it was just horrendous.
“Spirits are definitely broken, they can be mended but it is going to take a long time,” she told the ABC.
Granite Belt residents were advised to head towards Warwick and a shelter at the YMCA Leslie Dam Active Recreation Centre.
On the Scenic Rim, inland from the Gold Coast, police declared an emergency situation in Canungra because the fire was posing a threat to lives in its path.
Early Saturday morning, residents near Mount Mellum on the Sunshine Coast were also warned to “leave now” as a new fire front opened north of Brisbane at 3.55am, later downgraded to “stay informed”.
An evacuation centre was opened at Stanthorpe Fitness Centre while fire took out a substation on the outskirts of town, cutting power to much of the town.
Long time Stanthorpe locals say they’ve never seen a fire this bad. A ‘seek shelter’ warning is still in place. Residents are going to sleep at the evacuation centre, not knowing if they’ll have a home to wake up to. @7NewsToowoomba @7NewsBrisbane pic.twitter.com/LEdzuSyslH
— Carissa Kemp (@CarissaKemp_7) September 6, 2019