Defiant township battles on against inferno

 

Standing "shoulder to shoulder", one defiant Fraser Island community is determined to save their tiny township from the grips of a devastating fire, which yesterday threatened homes and tore through previously unburnt parts of the World Heritage listed National Park.

Flames yesterday raged within 1km of the Happy Valley township, towards 50 homes, while about 25 watery-eyed residents, alongside dozens of volunteer fireys and crews from the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services stood united in their defence of properties and livelihoods.

Elspeth Murray from the Happy Valley Community Association (HVCA) told The Courier-Mail the town felt as though they were "under attack".

"It's been very dramatic today (Monday) - it is horrific," she said.

"It's just awful, it's boiling hot, the smoke is thick, our eyes are watering and we're all wearing masks walking around."

 

The Happy Valley community on Fraser Island where they have stayed to fight the fire. Picture: Supplied
The Happy Valley community on Fraser Island where they have stayed to fight the fire. Picture: Supplied

 

Ms Murray said the HVCA, under the direction of Fraser Island veterans - including former Rural Fire Service inspector Winston Williams - had worked hard to secure their properties after the area had in 2018 been deemed "undefendable."

"The community association was established about 18 months ago for several reasons, but one being we had so much vegetation fuel surrounding the Valley because there hadn't been fire breaks cut around the Valley for about 12 years," Ms Murray said.

"We had actually been deemed 'undefendable' from fire."

She said for the last three weeks, the community's had a "bring it on" attitude, as they watched their hard work being put to the test.

"We know what we're doing," Ms Murray said.

"We have the people who aren't fighting fires watering their neighbours roofs. Those who aren't fighting fires on the front line are still assisting in other ways. It's a real team effort and a close community working together. We will be there shoulder to shoulder to see this fire through."

 

The burnt aftermath of the bush fire on world heritage-listed Fraser Island, north of the current fire front, which is in a no fly zone. Pic Lyndon Mechielsen
The burnt aftermath of the bush fire on world heritage-listed Fraser Island, north of the current fire front, which is in a no fly zone. Pic Lyndon Mechielsen

 

Over 90 firefighters using 38 vehicles and 19 aircraft were yesterday battling numerous fire fronts on Fraser Island, while late yesterday a new 'leave immediately' direction was issued to residents in Yidney Rocks, about 1.5km south of Happy Valley.

The New South Wales firefighting Bomber 210 aircraft also rendered assistance.

QFES regional operations centre co-ordinator Chief Superintendent James Gill said protecting homes remained the priority for crews.

"Our goal is to not let the fire reach the township," Chief Supt Gill said.

"We've been able to steer the fire around assets to date, which has been really good. There's no immediate concern to property at the moment … There's still a bit of heat in the wind, which doesn't help firefighting operations, but when we get that change in weather late Tuesday or Wednesday morning, it will assist us."

To date, approximately 82.5 thousand hectares - or just over half - of the National Park has burnt.

 

As a local business owner and resident, Carolyn Elder said the fire will have lasting environmental and economic impacts.

"Is just devastating to drive up the beach and see those once beautiful lush green hills all charcoaled and burnt," Ms Elder said.

"There's no other word for it but devastating. Devastating financially, devastating to the people that live on Fraser, it's devastating to the economy and the ecology. We just never thought that something like this would go through Fraser Island and that more than 50 per cent of the island would burn."

She estimated a loss of income of tens of thousands of dollars per week to her businesses, Fraser Island Towing and Rainbow Beach 4x4 Hire.

It comes as a spotlight was last week shone on Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services, after it was accused of mismanaging the bushfire situation and delaying hand over management of the blaze to QFES until November 27 - almost six weeks after it started from an illegal campfire.

 

To date, approximately 82.5 thousand hectares – or just over half - of the National Park has burnt. Pic Lyndon Mechielsen
To date, approximately 82.5 thousand hectares – or just over half - of the National Park has burnt. Pic Lyndon Mechielsen

 

 

Criticism over the handling of the fire continued after The Courier-Mail revealed a $15 million Bundaberg-based Canadian Conair air tanker Q400AT - which is capable of dropping 10,000 litres at once - was not tasked to the island until 34 days after the Fraser Island fires started.

Despite a number of delays and red tape in relation to the devastating fires that have now been burning for over seven weeks, Ms Murray said the HVCA remain determined to save their community.

"We do feel prepared and supported at this point in time, and yes, we're being tested, but we are going to prevail."

Originally published as Defiant township battles on against inferno