Emergency authorities in Central Queensland have told about 8000 residents at Gracemere, south of Rockhampton, to evacuate immediately to Rockhampton Showground.
The warning of the fast-moving Stanwell fire approaching the township on Wednesday afternoon comes as the fire rating reached Catastrophic level in the Capricornia and Central Highlands regions.
The ABC reports the large, fast-moving fire is travelling in an easterly direction along the Capricorn Highway from Stanwell towards Kabra, Gracemere and surrounding areas.
“All residents at Kabra, Gracemere and surrounds should evacuate in an easterly direction along the Capricorn Highway to the Rockhampton Showgrounds at Wandal if it is safe to do so. If you do not have a safe place to evacuate to, there is an evacuation centre at the Rockhampton Showgrounds,” it recommended.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said catastrophic fire conditions are expected to continue well in to the night.
— Rachel McGhee (@rachelmcgheeabc) November 28, 2018
Authorities were also preparing to forcibly remove people from homes in the path of the Deepwater bushfire on Wednesday.
They had earlier pleaded with people in the Rules Beach and Baffle Creek areas to evacuate the area immediately, the ABC reported.
— Allyson Horn (@allysonhorn) November 28, 2018
With at least 138 bushfires burning across Queensland on Wednesday, authorities said the conditions were like nothing they had ever seen, and could create a firestorm.
In Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday evening that the Commonwealth disaster assistance plan had been activated to help authorities deal with the bushfire emergency.
It allows the state government to seek federal help and access financial assistance in teh days , weeks and months to come.
“The entire country is coming to your aid. The entire country is there to help in this time of great need,” Mr Morrison said.
Earlier, police warned residents of Rules Beach they could “burn to death” when a massive bushfire reached the area.
This is Muller Road, Baffle Creek where police are now forcibly removing residents in the path of the #Deepwater blaze. In the next half an hour @QldFES are expecting a fire storm with possible tornadoes and ember attacks. | @SBSNews pic.twitter.com/wiroAHtvxX
— Virginia Langeberg (@v_langeberg) November 28, 2018
By Wednesday morning, more than 1000 people had already left their homes near the Deepwater fire, south of Agnes Water on the state’s central coast.
But others on about 50 local properties had ignored pleas to evacuate, even after police went door to door on Tuesday night.
Among them was macadamia grower Robert Griffith. He told the Courier Mail on Wednesday the fire was just three kilometres from his property.
“The wind is hot and dry. You can smell the fire, you can see the embers flying across and the whole farm is littered with burnt leaves from the past couple of days,” he said.
Mr Griffith said nine staff would stay and fight the approaching blaze. Their families had already left.
“Everyone is pretty tired but we’re a close-knit team, so everyone’s spirits are really high,” he said.
Some residents were reportedly escaping the area by boat.
— Jess Millward (@JessMillward9) November 28, 2018
Deputy Police Commissioner Bob Gee said officers would do a final sweep of the area on Wednesday morning.
“If you have children with you, you need to think really hard about not losing a house, but losing the people you care most about,” Mr Gee said.
“People will burn to death. Their normal approaches probably won’t work if this situation develops the way it is predicted to develop. It is no different to a Category 5 cyclone coming through your door.”
“The beach may not be a safe option. Leave now.”
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said the conditions reminded him of Victoria’s Ash Wednesday fires, which he experienced firsthand as a firefighter.
“I’m sure that some people have probably got very good and elaborate systems of pumps and dams and systems and they believe that ‘I’ll be OK and I know what I’m doing and I’ve done this before’,” Mr Crawford said.
“Today is not one of those days. Today is different. We are expecting a firestorm.”
The firestorm would likely create “dead man zones” that would be impossible to survive.
Fire 🔥 Danger Ratings have reached Catastrophic for the first time in #Queensland due to the combination of a very dry, hot airmass and strong, gusty westerly winds. Follow the advice of @QldFES during these extremely challenging fire weather conditions: https://t.co/rfYMgjkWoL pic.twitter.com/tRqG2VnqYA
— Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) November 28, 2018
Brian Smith, regional manager for the Rural Fire Services Central Region, said experts had predicted catastrophic conditions for the area north of Bundaberg on Wednesday afternoon.
“They’re comparing this to the conditions in the Waroona fires in Western Australia, which completely wiped out a town a few years ago, and also to the recent California fires,” he said.
Interstate crews arrived on Tuesday to help fight the inferno. Eight aircraft, including a massive water-bombing plane that can dump 15,000 litres at a time, have also been called in.
Firefighting crews from South Australia were expected to arrive on Wednesday, with more from around Australia to arrive later this week.