Teenage arsonists may have started a fast-moving firestorm that has claimed up to 11 homes in Queensland’s Noosa region, forcing hundreds of evacuations and leading to an emergency declaration.
The beachside community of Peregian Springs, near Noosa, came under siege from “ember attacks” on Monday night as the bushfire crisis spread from the country to the coast.
Police are speaking to several teenagers about the beachside blaze that ravaged coastal suburbia and is still burning out of control.
The fire spread with astonishing speed, with 400 people holed up in evacuation centres in two local government areas – Sunshine Coast and Noosa.
From rural Stanthorpe to heavily populated suburbs by the sea, Queensland has been hit by an “unprecedented” bushfire season – with 70 raging blazes across the state – and it is only predicted to get worse.
NSW firefighters also continue to battle out-of-control bushfires, with more than 50 still alight in that state.
The Noosa shire sits on the northern end of the Sunshine Coast, two hours north of Brisbane, and prides itself on its natural landscape of bushland and forests that adjoin suburban developments.
Queensland police on Monday night declared a bushfire emergency situation at Peregian Springs and the surf town of Peregian Beach, with extreme winds of up to 50km/h raining embers onto urban streets, feeding flames and pushing the blaze north.
Residents of Peregian Beach, Peregian Springs, Peregian Breeze Estate and Marcus Beach were ordered to “leave immediately”.
Neighbouring suburbs of Sunshine Beach, Sunrise Beach, Castaways Beach, Noosa Springs and Weyba have been warned to “prepare to leave”.
Ten houses have been destroyed in a bushfire tonight on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. The blaze started late this afternoon at Peregian Beach. Residents safely evacuated. @abcnews @abcbrisbane
Pic Daniel Mcardle pic.twitter.com/LlKTYfB5Ke
— Shelley Lloyd (@shelleymlloyd) September 9, 2019
Up to 300 people fled to evacuation centres at Cooroy Library and the Noosa Leisure Centre at Noosaville. Many schools were also closed on Tuesday, including Coolum Beach State School and Peregian Springs State School.
At 1.15am Tuesday, the fast-moving fire was travelling north-east from Emu Mountain Road towards Peregian Beach and Marcus Beach.
Peregian Beach residents between Emu Mountain Road and north to Peregian Esplanade should evacuate in a northerly direction towards Noosa. pic.twitter.com/yqYDs34lmY
— 4562eumundi.com (@EUMUNDI4562) September 9, 2019
Noosa local disaster co-ordinator Carl Billingham told the ABC fire crews were working to contain the out-of-control Sunshine Coast fire.
“We’ve got about 250-300 people in our three evacuation centres. I believe we’ve got three fire water-bombing helicopters coming in to try to douse the fire where possible, and we’ve got over 70 tenders in attendance,” he said.
Sunshine Coast acting mayor Tim Dwyer said the full extent of the damage would not be known until the fires were extinguished.
Meanwhile, at the scene of earlier fires at Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast hinterland, about 100 police, guests and staff who sought shelter at O’Reilly’s Guest House at Canungra were safely evacuated on Monday night.
QFES downgraded its alert for the O’Reilly area, located deep in mountainous forest, just before midnight on Monday, saying properties were not under direct threat.
And residents of Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe, were told just after midnight they could return home after earlier being told to evacuate.
A larger fire at Stanthorpe and Applethorpe remains under control.
Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford warned the emergency was far from over.
“I think we are through the worst of it, but we still have a couple of days to go before it really starts to cool down,” he said.
Earlier on Monday some Gold Coast hinterland residents were allowed to return to their homes, though several had been burnt to the ground.
More have been damaged but the full extent remains unknown.
Scenic Rim Mayor Greg Christensen said a few evacuees from the Binna Burra and Sarabah areas were allowed to return home to check on animals and get medications.
Cr Christensen said the residents had been warned their homes were gone but that this was the first time they could assess the damage.
“One or two of those found property loss,” he said on Monday.
Fires are also burning north of Rockhampton, near Gympie and one west of Toowoomba. No homes are under threat in those areas.
NSW firefighters continue to battle out-of-control bushfires in the state’s north, with concerns a southerly change could push one blaze towards Yamba.
The fire has burned more than 7300 hectares in the Yuraygir National Park and Shark Creek area. There were concerns on Monday night that a southerly change due on Tuesday morning could push it towards Yamba on the coast.
The fire was affecting the southern side of Angourie and Wooloweyah villages on Monday, the NSW Rural Fire Service said.
Firefighters spent the weekend battling dozens of intense northern NSW blazes, with watch and act alerts for the Shark Creek fire, a blaze at Drake (near Tenterfield) and another at Bees Nest (near Armidale).
The Bees Nest fire was likely to take weeks to contain, RFS said on Monday. The fire at Drake has burnt more than 32,000 hectares.
More than 630 firefighters were deployed to fight 60-plus fires burning across the state as of Monday afternoon, with 28 of them uncontained.
The Bureau of Meteorology issued high fire ranger rating for several regions on Tuesday, including the Far North Coast, North Coast, New England, Central Ranges and Greater Hunter. The risk will remain very high in the Northern Slopes region.