Queensland authorities say it is a miracle more homes have not been lost to the ongoing bushfire crisis has destroyed 17 houses and damaged 67 more across the state.
One of the fiercest fires is in the Peregian area of the Sunshine Coast, where hundreds were ordered to evacuated on Monday and which was still burning out of control on Tuesday.
At 2pm Tuesday, Queensland Fire and Emergency issued a new alert for residents of Peregian Beach, Peregian Breeze Estate, Marcus Beach and south of Lake Weyba to leave immediately.
“A fast-moving fire is travelling in a north, north-westerly direction from Peregian Beach towards the southern end of Lake Weyba,” it said.
Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said a taskforce had been set up to investigate the cause of at least eight of the fires around the state.
“Some of the fires have involved children playing, and obviously the consequences are dire as a result of that and some of them have been purposeful and malicious,” she said.
Acting Queensland premier Jackie Trad said earlier it was extraordinary that no one had yet died or was missing and damage had so far been limited from the Sunshine Coast blaze.
“Last night’s herculean efforts resulted in nothing short of a miracle … when you consider the ember storm that was engulfing those communities and how unpredictable and quickly that fire emerged late yesterday,” Ms Trad said.
With more than 80 fires still burning across Queensland, the danger is not over. Winds were expected to ramp up again on Tuesday afternoon.
Police say arsonists lit some of the fires, and Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has announced a new taskforce “prevent, disrupt, and investigate” the fires.
On Tuesday, police interviewed three Queensland teenagers about the Peregian fire after they apparently boasted in a local chatroom about lighting it.
The Peregian Beach Surf and Lifesaving Club posted on its Facebook page that it had been sent a screenshot of an internet chatroom message.
“It has been reported that three teenage boys handed themselves in after the screenshot was passed around by their friends,” the surf club posted.
Police have confirmed officers are talking to the boys about the fire, which started in bushland off Koel Circuit in Peregian Springs about 4.30pm on Monday.
No charges have been laid.
Photos of Peregian Village this morning Credit Adrian Freer
Acting Sunshine Coast mayor Tim Dwyer urged people to stay away from the Peregian evacuation zone, as police warned that – in addition to the fire danger – electrical infrastructure has also been damaged.
“Anybody that’s been evacuated and they’re out of their home, do not try to get go back into that area unless you have official – and I mean official – news from the Queensland Police Service,” he said.
Water bombers are battling the blaze from the sky as crews try to get the upper hand.
The Peregian blaze is one of 70 raging across Queensland, from the southern Granite Belt to heavily populated coastal suburbs.
Richard Wardle from the Bureau of Meteorology said there would be some respite on Wednesday and Thursday from gusty winds that have fanned the fires.
But above-average temperatures are due to return later in the week, pushing the fire danger back to very high on Friday and Saturday.
No significant rain is expected in fire zones for up to a fortnight.
More information: Queensland Rural Fire Service
NSW firefighters battle ‘nightmare’
Across the border in NSW, strong winds are threatening to push major bushfires towards homes, with the local mayor describing the situation as very serious.
At 3.30pm on Tuesday, the Drake fire was upgraded to an emergency warning after it breached containment lines in the Sandy Point area.
“Homes in the area of Macleods Creek Road are under threat,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said. It advised residents to seek shelter.
The 66,694-hectare Bees Nest fire warning was also upgraded as the RFS said it had breached containment lines and was burning towards homes and properties in the Billys Creek area. Locals were advised to seek shelter and protect themselves from the heat of the fire.
The fire at Shark Creek, in the Clarence Valley south of Yamba, was a major concern for authorities on Tuesday as strong winds of more than 60km/h whipped up flames, but has since been downgraded to an advice level.
RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd said firefighters worked hard to successfully hold the blaze at bay, despite the strong winds.
“The winds have been up all day, but we have been constantly hitting that fire with the large air tankers,” he said.
Videos posted to social media by the RFS show large air tankers dropping thousands of litres of fire retardant close to homes to slow the fire.
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We will reopen Thursday whilst we are currently trying to save our little community .. more fires have started so we are now fighting from both directions.. thanks to all the fire fighters helping us out ..🙌🙌🙏🙏see you all Thursday full cafe open 👍spuddie took this video 🙌
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Directly in the potential path of the Shark Creek fire is the Angourie Resort, south of Yamba.
Danielle, who runs the business with her husband and parents, said they’d managed to evacuate all of their guests within an hour at lunchtime on Monday. While easing conditions gave the family some hope overnight, strong winds on Tuesday have put them on edge.
“You just feel so helpless, you just want to do something … [we’re] just sitting here waiting to get the news it’s burnt down,” she said.
The fire has already burnt through more than 7750 hectares of bushland in the Yuraygir National Park.
Clarence Valley mayor Jim Simmons said he couldn’t remember the area ever being so dry, describing conditions as “really terrible”.
“We haven’t seen anything like this in my lifetime,” he said on Tuesday.
“It’s very serious.”
Strong winds, smoke and dust caused “stifling conditions” on Monday, with much the same expected on Tuesday, Cr Simmons said.
Crews are also trying to control of fires north of Ebor at Bees Nest – which has a perimeter of more than 300 kilometres.
“Just trying to get containment on these fires is a nightmare,” NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers told Nine’s Today Show.
More favourable conditions are forecast for Wednesday but with no rain expected, the RFS has warned the Bees Nest and Long Gully Road blazes could burn for weeks.
The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a high fire danger rating for several regions on Tuesday, including the far north coast, north coast, New England, central ranges and greater Hunter. The risk will be very high in the northern slopes region.
Nearly 400 firefighters were out in the field on Tuesday morning. That number is expected to almost double throughout the day as about 55 blazes continue to burn across the state, 20 of them yet to be contained.
More information: NSW Rural Fire Service