News Queensland Tourists return to Fraser Island as locals tell tales of triumph over fires
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Tourists return to Fraser Island as locals tell tales of triumph over fires

Burnt bushland showing how close the flames came to the Happy Valley township on Fraser Island. Photo: ABC News/Nicole Hegarty
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Less than two weeks after a bushfire roared towards the township of a Happy Valley on Fraser Island (K’gari), stories of survival and triumph are still doing the rounds.

Flames jumped the dingo fence encircling the township and residents were evacuated as smoke blanketed the area.

Happy Valley was saved by the efforts of a team of largely volunteer rural firefighters, led by Darren Gorlick.

Darren Gorlick says fire was moving toward Happy Valley from several directions. Photo: ABC News/Nicole Hegarty

As the flames grew closer to the township of fewer than 100 people, Mr Gorlick led a team out to the fire grounds to conduct back-burning in a last attempt to keep the blaze away.

He said fire was heading for the township from multiple directions.

“We knew there were aeroplanes doing water drops, but we couldn’t see them the smoke was so intense,” he said.

“There was nowhere to go and there was only one way it was going and that was straight for us.

“The hazard reduction burning earlier this year was a massive factor, especially on that north-west corner.

Miraculously, a picnic table was the only infrastructure damaged at Happy Valley. Photo: ABC News/Nicole Hegarty

“It’s amazing to see how that fire racing towards the valley hit that block and stopped.”

Further south at Yidney Rocks, the blaze again came within metres of property, stopping at the back door of holiday cottages.

Mr Gorlick said the race was now on to prepare the holiday accommodation for tourists as they returned for the Christmas holidays.

“Recovery is now getting back on normal terms – it’s been a long process,” he said.

Fire stopped just short of Maheno Cottages near Yidney Rocks. Photo: ABC News/Nicole Hegarty

“The Valley still looks as beautiful as it did but it’s not until the outskirts you can see the damage.

“The smoke through the Valley was intense, so everybody’s going through pulling houses apart trying to get them ready for the tourists starting Christmas holidays.

“During those few days of the fire, there was just nothing – it was just doom and gloom but then a couple of days later the smoke cleared and the birds are all back.”

The recovery is well and truly underway and tourists are being welcomed back to the island.

Troy, Hayden, Ruby and Amanda Frazer at Lake McKenzie yesterday. Photo: ABC News/Nicole Hegarty

Troy Frazer and his family from Brisbane were days away from cancelling their trip, but Tuesday’s reopening of tourist facilities came just in time.

“It was fingers crossed but still touch and go and we kept our booking and here we are – it’s beautiful,” he said.

“We were booked to come over Saturday and then that got moved to Monday and then it got opened up Tuesday and we really didn’t want to go anywhere else.

“The firies have done a great job and everyone is thankful for that – hats off to them.”

Tourists already flocking back

Tourists are now making their way back to the World Heritage-listed island from around the country.

Emma Trimble and her friend Shona Kalinbak, both from Thursday Island, have already made the southward trek to Fraser.

Shona Kalinbak (left) and Emma Trimble says bushfire damage has not stopped their visiting all the sites on their wish list. Photo: ABC News/Nicole Hegarty

“The weather is so beautiful today and we’re lucky to be able to visit – the fire hasn’t stopped anything,” Ms Trimble said.

“We’re very impressed – it’s beautiful.”

Tourism operators have reported good booking numbers for the festive season.

Locals have remained hopeful that Christmas tourism will help the island recover after a challenging year.

-ABC