Bushfires could travel underground across parched parts of Queensland in coming days, the Rural Fire Service has warned.
The dire warning comes as most of Queensland faces a very high fire danger over coming days and a total fire ban across the state’s south-east.
RFS Superintendent Allan Gillespie said soils throughout much of the state are extremely dry and that can help the spread of what is called “subterranean fires”.
“What we don’t want are fires starting today that will potentially impact [Friday],” he said.
“A subterranean fire burns through a tree stump or a tree and it burns what you can see, but what you’re not seeing is that it is burning underground through the root system.
“The soil moisture levels are at record lows in south-east Queensland and so a fire will travel underground.”
Superintendent Gillespie warned that these sort of fires can then “pop out” of the ground days or even weeks later.
“The root systems of these trees can go for many, many metres into unburnt country and pop out three days later, five days later, three weeks later and start another fire,” he said.
While underground fires are rare, it would not be the first time such a fire has happened in Queensland.
Just last week a grass fire threatened homes near Grantham in the Lockyer Valley, cutting the Warrego Highway.
“We still have crews on that fire today looking at subterranean fire issues,” Superintendent Gillespie said.
Underground fires are common in southern states, but Superintendent Gillespie said conditions were so bad in Queensland that it could become commonplace here.
“We haven’t had these sort of conditions for a long time and they’re right at the moment for this type of phenomenon to occur,” he said.
He said they had also gathered together a special taskforce to focus on the fire threat in the south-east.
“We’re moving a strike team from the Gold Coast up into the Ipswich area so we can respond to any incidents in the Lockyer and Somerset areas,” he said.
“We’ve also deployed additional aircraft and command staff into those areas as well.”
He urged people in bushfire-prone areas to have their survival plans ready but said the fire service was well prepared for any emergency.
“This is what we do, this is what we train to do and this is what we do extremely well – and our preparations and our commitment to protecting local communities is very strong and I’m confident anything that the weather throws at us today, we’ll be able to handle.”